Toronto Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott has proposed reducing matches to 60 minutes and introducing 15-minute quarters to limit the toll on players and enable Super League to complete as much of the 2020 season as possible.
Like the NRL, which has formed an eight-person Innovation Committee, the Super League is looking at ways of fulfilling its obligations to broadcasters.
McDermott believes it is likely that teams will need to play midweek games once the competition is cleared to resume.
However, McDermott is concerned any additional demands on players will affect the quality of matches and has called for a “creative response” by shortening games and introducing quarters.
“The physical welfare of the players is paramount and there is a way of preserving them to be at their best and give the fans and wider audiences what they want by way of the best possible product.
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“Given the landscape we find ourselves in and the parameters of welfare, which cannot be dismissed, why not introduce the idea of four 15-minute quarters?
“From a coach’s point of view, in my experience, those who would normally play 80 minutes but have been substituted for the final 15 or 20 have reported back how much fresher they feel 48 hours afterwards, and have been able to train more fully the following week.
“Not only would that be preserving them but it would enable the quality to remain higher throughout this most demanding of periods, with more of the star names on display for longer.
“Condensing the match to an hour will add to rather than lessen the intensity, the game is more sell-able, and the welfare aspect considered by a sport that is seen as responsible and forward-thinking.”
The four-time Super League grand final-winning coach outlined his proposal in a letter for the upcoming edition of Forty20 magazine but given the urgency of the situation he felt it should be distributed to the wider media, including NRL.com.
Rugby league, like American football, is a sport that has continuously evolved since breaking away from rugby union 125 years ago, with the formation of the Northern Union in 1895.
McDermott believes the challenges created by COVID-19 also provide an opportunity for the game to consider innovations that could be adopted permanently if successful.
There are a number of boxes that would be ticked by such a move.Brian McDermott
“Of course, the counter argument to playing for an hour is that ‘it’s not what we’re used to’, but – and the players have to be the primary consideration – it has other benefits too,” McDermott said.
“Plus, there is an appeal for new, younger audiences bred on shortened forms of sport, especially if the excitement generated is more relentless rather than less.
“The broadcasters have more, natural advertising breaks to recoup some of the income they have lost over this period and see a sport worth continuing to invest in that is not afraid to look at a wider picture.
“There are a number of boxes that would be ticked by such a move, which could be a trial for this season only to get us over the current hiatus or a potential vision of the future.
“I have no doubt that the players will do whatever that is asked of them in the weeks to come, including playing a run of midweek games, even to their physical and mental detriment. This is a way of helping to put them first and move the sport progressively forward.”
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.