Talking RL: Super League bosses can’t be blamed for a cash-grab

Wayne Bennett has taken aim at the media 'agenda' for whipping up a frenzy
Wayne Bennett has taken aim at the media 'agenda' for whipping up a frenzy
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Super-fan and keen stats-man Bilko – a former contributor to these pages – made an interesting point this week.

As North Queensland Cowboys’ Johnathan Thurston is preparing for his 300th league game, he noted Sean O’Loughlin – who debuted the same year –is set for his 412th league match.

It highlights the number of extra games played on these shores .

Rewind, and the first Super League campaign – in 1996 – kicked-off in March and had 22 league games.

When the Grand Final system was introduced two years later, there were 23.

But by 1999, that number increased to 30 regular season games and since then, it has floated around the 27-30 mark, with various play-offs structures thrown on top.

The NRL teams play 24 games, plus play-offs.

Forget playing some teams three or four times a season, like we do here – there are six teams that they once play ONCE a year!

Imagine the clamour for tickets if Wigan faced St Helens only once a year?

Of course, pointing out the problem is simple.

But we all know why clubs here want the extra matches: money.

Some Super League clubs don’t spend up to the salary cap limit and many don’t run reserve teams. They are skint.

Would cutting the number of fixtures and raising their exclusivity cover or increase, the money they generate?

That would be one hell of a gamble to take.

“The administration over here is way behind Australia,” said Catalans forward Greg Bird. “Down there they have made massive strides with TV and sponsorship, so much so that some halves are getting $1.3m contracts.Over here, players have been on the same wages for 20 years.”

Funneling more of the TV money into improving the Super League has been a big part of the behind-the-scenes rumblings we’ve got right now.

Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan wrote in his programme notes it was the Super League clubs’ “collective intent to drive significant changes and improvements throughout the top-tier of rugby league” this year.

What will happen, we don’t know. But I think most people recognise something needs to change.

Of course, one down-side to the shake-up is the uncertainty over the format of rugby league next year.

Will next year’s Super League be cut or expanded? Which is a shame, because it’s taking a little of the gloss off an interesting start to the

Championship season.

At a time when expansion is back on the agenda, we have London, Toronto and Toulouse - with Eddy Pettybourne on board - in the top-four.

It’s exciting to see those sides doing well. I just wish I knew whether it really means anything or not.

I’m not one of those fawning over Eddie Hearn’s possible involvement in rugby league.

And as I pointed out a week ago, a lot of the sport’s faults could be fixed with a double dose of common-sense and clout.

But I read his interview in the Guardian, and this line caught my attention: “While Sky will always do a great job, they won’t be all over it. They’re all over boxing, because boxing’s hot. They love it.”

From the opening few weeks of the season, I can’t help feel he’s right.Sure, Sky are showing the games, and they’ve added some NRL coverage to their mix – which I welcome.

But from Sky Sports News to the trailers promoting its own fixtures, and through to the pre- and post-game coverage, I can’t help shake the feeling that Eddie is right.

Sky aren’t “all over it” any more.

Warrington’s Dec Patton has received a five-game ban for the high-tackle which saw him red-carded in last Friday’s loss at Hull.

It certainly looked more miss-timed than intentional.

But I’m less concerned with debating whether it was harsh or not than seeing if the

disciplinary maintain that level of consistency.

I can’t help think they have set their gauge with this, that other offences will be measured by.

Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett has criticised the media for an “agenda” in reporting the Matt Lodge controversy.

Less than three years ago, Lodge spent two weeks in a US prison for terrorising a family – complete strangers – in a New York rampage.

He later admitted assault. Prior to that, he also pleaded guilty to assaulting a former girlfriend.

“What I can’t understand is he’s been here for 15 months now, you knew he signed a contract to play here, and all of a sudden... you’re making national news and headlines and nothing but massive amounts of criticism,” Bennett told

reporters.

“You’ve got your agenda guys. You know that, I know that, I don’t know where it all started but it did.”

Bennett has had his run-ins with the media before, but this strikes as startling naivety.

Of course the media are interested in it now – the NRL season is about to start. And Lodge is poised to make his debut for Brisbane, his first top-level game since the saga.

The victims gave an interview this week, revealing their nine-year old son – who pleaded with Lodge for his life during the ordeal – still “suffers from trauma”. On top of that, we have Todd Carney – one-time Catalans and Salford halfback – unable to secure an NRL return. The indiscretion which saw him banned?

He was pictured pretending – pretending – to take a leak in his own mouth.

Of course people will discuss the hypocrisy.

Of course people will talk about Lodge’s return, days before it happens.

And of course – while it’s trivial – the media will report it.

The RFL is moving its base to the Etihad campus and a lot of people are getting excited.

But I’m pretty sure people were excited when they moved some of their operations to Media City not long ago, and I can’t see how that made a jot of difference.

Forgive me for reserving judgement on how much of an impact this move to the Etihad will make.