The 2014 NRL draw will include more day games on Saturdays and Sunday afternoon blockbusters in response to fans’ demands.
The NRL has handed football back to the fans with Saturday and Sunday afternoon rugby league making a major comeback as part of the 2014 draw released on Wednesday.
Saturday afternoon footy is back – by popular demand – and the game’s governing body has scheduled more Sunday afternoon blockbusters as part of their aim to reinvigorate crowds and television ratings.
Crowds fell by around three per cent this season and TV ratings dropped by around six per cent.
NRL head of football Todd Greenberg said the NRL had taken the interests of everyone involved in the game into account in devising the new draw.
“It’s been clear over a number of years that players, fans and clubs are looking for more daytime football,” NRL head of football Todd Greenberg said.
Saturday 3pm kick-offs will go ahead in rounds five, eight, 10, 19 and 20 of the first 20 rounds that were released in full.
Sunday afternoon games will be a regular feature at Brookvale Oval, Leichhardt Oval and Hunter Stadium.
Greenberg stressed the NRL would continue to schedule games at suburban venues in the future, but also emphasised the need to maximise attendances by placing more games at bigger venues like Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.
“There’s certainly a place for suburban venues and I think there always will be,” Greenberg said.
“I think that’s clear within the draw and I think it’s still clear in the future, but I think it’s a right game, right venue strategy.
“If you’ve got ability to draw big crowds and big Sydney blockbusters together what we’re saying to clubs is ‘lets try to find a way to maximise those attendance opportunities and work together’.
“We should be aiming high, we should be reaching for the stars and trying to get as many people to our games as possible.
“To do that you have to play in the biggest venues and you have to provide the best facilities.”
But it is clear broadcasters Channel Nine and Fox Sports have also had a major say in the scheduling, with Brisbane playing on Friday night for the first 10 rounds of the season.
It was a reflection, Greenberg said, of how well the Broncos rated on TV.
He said the NRL had consulted players and the NSW and Queensland coaches about shortening the Origin period to two weeks between games rather than the current three.
“There wasn’t an appetite to support that,” Greenberg said.
“Primarily that appetite wasn’t there because they felt the spectacle of Origin, as good as it is, requires that period of time between games in order to bring themselves back up to that level.
“We’ve agreed to re-look at that.”
He confirmed there was a possibility of Manly taking an NRL game to China next year, but said it was not yet commercially viable and needed more financial backing to happen.
Other features of the draw include two games at the SCG and the Warriors playing their first three matches at Auckland’s Eden Park in what could be a permanent move in seasons to come.
The season starts on March 6 with an ANZ Stadium clash between South Sydney and Sydney Roosters, one of a handful of Thursday night games.