Is NRL Grand Final Day everything you want it to be as the Game’s showcase event of the year? This post is being written during the Intrust Super State Championship Grand Final so it’s not sitting in judgement of the standard of football or the entertainment. Rather, it’s concerned with what’s missing.
This may not be a popular post. At the very least it’s likely to be polarising because I will be criticising decisions made by NRL executives. Nonetheless, if this is the direction that Grand Final days will be taking, then the NRL needs to be called out on a major area of neglect.
Of course I’m talking about the omission of an Under 20s decider.
Whether it’s been under 20s, under 21s, under 23s or Third Grade, this lower grade Grand Final has always been a showcase for younger footballers. Last year’s demise of the NYC has obviously meant that the NRL no longer has any interest in promoting the future stars of the game, let alone providing a stage for them on Grand Final day.
No big deal? It’s only junior football?
Consider the decisions the NRL have made with junior football and tell me whether they’re acting like the guardians of the game. They’ve literally shovelled it back to the NSWRL and no longer promote the future stars of rugby league.
The NYC was an elite competition which was the envy of other sports. It enjoyed a high profile via its broadcast arrangement with Fox Sports and its positioning as the curtain raiser event for NRL matches. Whilst I didn’t agree with its scheduling elevation ahead of “reserve grade”, I definitely viewed it as an important inclusion on match days.
Fast forward to 2018. Many of the young players who last year played at big arenas and featured on television are now playing at smaller venues or local parks in front of family and friends. As a consequence, most club supporters have little idea about the young players on the fringe of ISP or even the NRL for their team. Be honest, how many of you Eels supporters have had the opportunity to watch ISP or Flegg outside of a couple of games at ANZ?
So let’s say we accept that the venues can no longer support the traffic of three grades of football every week.
Let’s even accept that you won’t get the opportunity to watch these under 20 footballers on a weekly basis.
Wouldn’t you then hope that the trade off would be the NRL showcasing its future stars on the very day that it has its largest audience? It would make sense wouldn’t it?
The NRLW Grand Final has been a tremendous inclusion. It’s enjoying the larger broadcast audience that comes on Grand Final day. One hopes it hasn’t come at the expense of an Under 20s event. After all, both are just as important for the growth of the game. Surely both could still feature?
Should an argument be presented that the surface can’t cope with four grades of football, I’d be surprised. Quite simply, the traffic on ANZ Stadium on grand final weekend is much less than normal weekends. Time? We used to have three grades with a first grade three o’clock kick off. It can be fitted in.
Or maybe they just don’t care.
This season, the lower grade finals series matches have been staged at Penrith Park, Kogarah and Leichhardt. Obviously, the NRL doesn’t have an interest in having these clashes as curtain raisers before NRL finals. They’ve drawn a line below first grade and anything below that no longer features in their game day plans.
As far as I’m concerned that’s not good enough.
We need the “professionals” who earn their coin looking after the game that we love to return the game to the people. Stop taking our game further and further away from the traditions and core values that the code is based on. Stop hiding these important pathways away from the fans. Let us watch the future stars of our game.
At least on this one day of the year!