The Cumberland Throw

From The Stands – March 6, 2023: Inequitable Draw Punishes Club Members

I love the summer holidays but it was great to have the footy season starting again. And nothing beats being at the game.

After the match, big Nelson looked up to the stands and “applauded” the Eels fans. I know it annoyed some but I loved it. That passion is what makes the footy for me. Let’s hope we get a chance to return the “appreciation” to him at some point this year.

Thursday’s result was not what we wanted and certainly much improvement is needed but I wanted to write about my experience and more generally our draw.

I could discuss how uneven the NRL draw is, with some teams facing tough seasons whilst others are blessed, but I came to understand many years ago that the NRL draw is one made for TV and not an equal playing field.

But inequity in the draw is one thing. Punishing members to satisfy a television schedule is another.

When the media partners sit down to lodge their match preferences for broadcast times, they wouldn’t be giving any consideration to how the punters who’ve pre-committed to their season would be impacted.

This is where the NRL and Club management needs to be advocating on behalf of its members.

Our club enjoys the highest membership of any club in Sydney. We have averaged home crowds in excess of 20 000 since returning to our stadium in 2019.

Kick off on Thursday night

How have we been rewarded by the NRL?

Let’s start with finals footy. Last year we were told that finals would still be played in small grounds to reward clubs in the top four. This was despite the inferior quality of the Penrith and Cronulla venues. I understand the commitment to reward successful seasons, but supporters of all clubs, not just the away teams, were deprived of the opportunity to attend.

And what benefit did Eels members have for boasting the highest paid membership in Sydney year in and year out? The reward was that only a fraction of our membership would get access to week 1 finals tickets.

But back to the season as a whole. In many ways the schedule of the draw impacts the actual value of our membership. My family are loyal supporters but the time slot for games impacts us and probably thousands of others.

We can’t avoid an occasional Thursday or early Friday time slot, but consider this.

In 2023, the first six home games for the Eels features two Thursday night fixtures, two Friday 6pm matches and a trip to Darwin. How does this work for families, for those who have to travel, or for those who work 9 to 5 in the city?

This schedule represents half of our prepaid attendances for the year!

The Eels might respond that there are different membership packages to suit our situations. Well thousands of members roll over their membership, committing well before the draw is announced.

My family are full season ticket holders and we have to decide whether to forgo the games that we paid our membership to attend. The alternative is to risk a repeat of last Thursday night where we were caught in the car park after the game and arrived home near to 2am with work and school just a few hours later.

This coming week my family have changed our own schedule to be able to watch our team play in the 6pm kick off slot. We’ve taken leave to have a day off work, making a weekend of it in Sydney.

The reality is that it’s literally impossible to be a working family and have to travel any more than an hour and attend a 6pm Friday night game in Sydney. Even trying to get across Sydney in peak hour is a nightmare. We are lucky that we have the capacity to change our week around, but we can’t do that for every one of these matches.

Unfortunately we will have to miss Parra’s clash with the Panthers on a Thursday night in Round 4, and the Friday 6pm round 9 match against the Knights.

Just on that, who puts the Eels against the Knights, a supporter base who are known to travel well, on a Friday night at 6pm? 

Furthermore, Thursday night or 6pm Friday fixtures often don’t feature lower grade games. This again reduces the value of our membership.

Over 17k fans watched Gutho lead the team out. How many couldn’t attend?

A comparison with the Bulldogs draw paints a stark picture of the inequity faced by Eels supporters.

The Dogs have 8 games on a Saturday or Sunday. All of these games can have lower grade curtain raisers scheduled.

In addition the Dogs have two home games on public holidays; against the Rabbitohs on Good Friday and the Eels on the June long weekend. That means they have 10 of their 12 home games in family friendly times. They can make a day of it at the footy.

Like Eels supporters, their loyal members who rolled over memberships took a chance, but unlike us they have been given a far more suitable schedule.

With 17 teams in the competition, no club supporter should be getting 5 of their first 6 home games scheduled like the Eels.

Even across the full season, every club should expect no more than three games programmed across those Thursday and Friday time slots. The fact that the NRL would treat the supporters of the highest drawing Sydney club in this fashion is an insult.

Here’s a simple solution.

If the NRL is not going to ensure the equitable distribution of the Thursday night and 6pm Friday games, and if the Eels management have no objection to this schedule, then memberships should not be sold until the draw is out. To do otherwise suggests that any talk about listening to or caring about the fans is just pure rhetoric!

It is time for the NRL to walk the talk.

The most passionate NRL supporters are those who stump up their membership every year to attend games. How about creating a draw that has an even playing field for the teams and just as importantly treats paying club members with respect and fairness?




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Parra Pete

Good article Shelley..and I totally agree with what you have written. Maintain the rage..won’t do any good, but at least the “powers that be” will see and hear your points of view.


It certainly made me think beyond my own situation.


All the things that the NRL talk about involves fans being invested. Life long fans are created when they have the opportunity to attend games. The draw is inherently unfair this year.

Brett Allen

Sell back the tickets to the games you can’t attend. I live in Brisbane and I’m also a season ticket holder. If I can’t make the game I sell the ticket back to the club and it partially pays off my membership


You need to take a broader view then. We have a bye the week before the finals which is absolute gold and the draw leading into that bye will have us primed for the finals if we are good enough … and yet you seem to complain about a couple of 6pm games …. we’ve had great draws in the past and other teams have had tougher draws … it’s the game.


Wow. This should really be presented to the NRL and the powers that be at Parra. It’s well reasoned and articulated. Thank you.


I’m confident that it will be read.


I laugh because the media jumped up and down with the prospect of Cronulla fans being denied a home game in the finals but these very same journalists work for an organisation that has influenced the scheduling of games that denies fans the opportunity to use something they actually purchased during the regular season. No media people will talk about because the NRL media has absolute control over the schedule.

Brett Allen

I think all finals bar the GF & maybe the Prelim finals should be played at suburban grounds.

John Eel

That is smart. They set the standard last year with the small capacity at Shark park


I had membership for 23 years but I didn’t renew this year as the draw was making it harder to justify buying platinium tickets when my young kids wouldn’t even be able to make 1/2 the games. The prices rises didn’t help either.


Fair call, and we’ll worth our club noting.


Yeah in my group of season ticket holders one has a 6yo and the other a 5yo, they’ve been buying tickets for them pretty much since they were born but are lucky to get them to one or two games a year.

The sell-back program helps a little, though I reckon we’ve actually sold spares back maybe 2 or 3 times over the years, usually to find away supporters using them.


The inequality is this –
If Gus Gould presented this to the NRL, they would be pontificating and falling over themselves to change it.
If Mark O’Neill presented it, they would say that we are lucky to have a licence.
Wouldn’t even happen to the Roosters.

John Eel

Spark I think Gus is better at politics than he is at building football teams


Agreed John, he’s all piss and wind for me…and dribble. He should be front and centre for the state electorate out there, and I am sure he leans one way and then the next.


He may have a face that only his mother would love but he does know the game of rugby league.
That can’t be denied.

John Eel

Spark I agree that he is able to analyse a game of football and do it well.

However rebuilding a football team which was his mission at Penrith and Dogs in my opinion is a different skill set. One is critiquing and one is creating.

I would say that the Panthers won their first of two premierships in 2021 despite Gus.

Gus was overridden on the recruitment of Cleary which meant that they kept Nathan and why he left the Panthers. After his departure departure the roster was also overturned by Cleary the coach that Gus did not want.


It gets worst for Reserve grade , only 2 of 26 games televised, Friday’s game is 3.30pm . No wonder no one knows the names of these players that are trying to break into first grade . Why aren’t 2-3 grades played at same venues , so family can get value from their tickets and we can all see the young guns comings through


Unfortunately even in more time friendly spots not enough people turn up to watch the lower grades anymore. Even back to when I first started attending games in the early 2000’sn there would be a couple of hundred turn up for all 3 grades. I’d say 90% of the crowd would turn up with about 20 minutes to go in reserve grade.

John Eel

That has become the habit.


Ham, as you know I’ve written about this in the past and noted (as John also suggests below) that the staging of NRL only fixtures created a fan habit of turning up late. The NRL also “demoted” NSW Cup during the NYC era, losing peoples interest in reserve grade. It doesn’t help that lower grade games staged as curtain raisers finish up to nearly an hour before the NRL match, meaning fans are sitting around with not much entertainment for a long period before the main game.


Spot on Shelley, I am fortunate enough that I work close enough and finish at a favourable time to get to the 6pm Friday games. One thing broadcasters forget is that sports look better when the stadium is full.

I think once the NRL adds more mens and womens teams they’ll have to choose which games are shown live. This could bring fans back to the stadium, if they want to watch the game live they’ll have to do so at the stadium.


Hey Ham, we’ve already seen evidence of Fox League showing NRLW on an alternative channel when it conflicts with their core programming. Eg Marty John’s Show.

Last edited 14 days ago by sixties

I am a long time eels member … it dosnt look good for TV if premium seats remain empty cause families can’t make games on Thursday and Friday nights
Personally my seats stay empty if one or more of the crew can’t make it
Shame really and highlights this disgusting management of the game


That is a shame Kay because a broadcasting decision shouldn’t impact whether fans can attend or not.

John Eel

I feel your pain Shelley. I live at The Entrance. I was a member before I lived at The Entrance so I new what I was getting into. I am a pensioner and I catch the train to the games because it cuts out the hassle of parking and saves me some money. Thursday night I arrived home just before 1:00 am. Pretty much normal. However I have had a gut full of Thursday night games. It is designed that way because we get the biggest crowds to Thursday games and biggest TV ratings. Like you say Shelley we deserve… Read more »


Couldn’t agree more John, I changed my membership to four games, so I could choose who I see and when. It’s become a joke.

John Eel

That is a good option Milo. The only thing that stops me doing that is I really like my seats.

My experience has been when trying to get extra seats I get put into an area not nearly as good.

June Barton

Totally agree on theFriday and Thursday night games. I’m 73 and I usually can’t make the Thursday games because we get home so late and it’s hard getting 2 teenagers up for school the next day. Friday 6pm games are hard because my daughter works and by the time she’s finished the games about to start. Keep up the good work Shelley I love reading your column. June

June Barton

Ps. We’ve been ticket holders since we were playing out of Belmore.


Shelley’s column is popular because she voices how many feel. From The Stands is the perfect name for her content.


I am very pissed.I have 5 season tickets which cost me over $4500 a season and I could not use any last week or the Thursday night game vs panthers in a few weeks what an absolute joke I will be voicing my concerns to the club when I can actually attend a game.


I was thinking about you as I read this Gianni. Your investment is huge every year and you were very generous during Covid. There are many supporters who travel from outside Sydney like yourself, John and Shelley. It’s very unfair.

Luke Winley

I traveled down from Newcastle on Thursday with my wife, 10 ,12 and 14-year-old daughters. Tough day at work on Friday and tired children Friday morning . My youngest daughter is spewing that I’m not prepared to take her down for a 6 pm timeslot on Friday night. I’ll be selling my tickets. I have five ticketed memberships and have done for years and I missed out on grand final tickets last year after going to Penrith for the semi-final and to Parramatta for the second semifinal. I’ll never forget the sick feeling in my stomach when I missed out… Read more »

  • Historically Rugby League has been identified and indeed marketed as a working class game. At a time when ordinary Australians are under cost of living and mortgage stress, forking out money in advance for season tickets not knowing the draw and as Shelley has pointed out being lumped with a draw that makes it difficult to attend games then fans quite rightly will feel aggrieved. You can’t blame them if they start voting with their feet. On top of this the significant price increases this year no doubt adds to the frustration.

Totally agree. I mean which genius decided shark v eels who were 2 top 4 teams from last season should be a fri 6pm game?


The broadcaster did. Therein lies the problem

Brett Allen

And the broadcasters pay the money that keeps the game afloat.
The thing you all don’t get is that this is normal all over the world in professional sport. I’ve never heard a bigger pack of whingers.


👏 👏 👏 I totally agree here. I’ve amended my members to four games. Used to be season ticket holders but Thursday and Friday nights are impossible from the coast to get to. I’m hopeful to be back to see some games this season but will re think my seats again as it’s not fair that you buy your membership then the draw comes out with this rubbish. I also feel the club is to blame here. They must listen…. Sunday arvo games are a big one for me, and even Saturday evening matches – you need to live within… Read more »


I’m privileged in that I can get to the ground relatively easy now even for 6pm games (I’m missing this Friday’s due to a prior commitment) but if I was still back on the Cenny Coast then I’d missing a lot of games and would reconsider my membership and understand why members are not happy. Parra’s popularity is its curse and the season ticket holders cop the brunt as Shelley eloquently points out.


Great read.

Let’s just remember the GF ticket debacle..
EBay had tickets for sale before members got access.

Ticketing is an issue for interstate members too I’ve heard. No game at Robina and Eels are playing Broncos at the Gabba?

The Bulldogs are being ‘looked after’ big time!

Brett Allen

Whinging much. The Thursday night slot is one of the prime slots, it gives the club big bang for its bucks. Maximum eyeballs for its commercial partners, particularly the LED signage in camera view. The Friday night 6pm slot isn’t ideal, but the broadcasters know that we’ll still get a good crowd anyway. But let’s change the draw around for Shelley and her family. Get the memo Shelley, the NRL is a business first and foremost, a Rugby League competition a distant 2nd. It will do whatever is in the best interests of the league as a collective, as it… Read more »

John Eel

I don’t like it but your point is well made


I love the Eels playing Thursday night footy, it’s the timeslot that is less likely to have something else planned


Your point isn’t wrong, though your delivery is almost rudely blunt Brett. The sponsors would be deliriously happy with prime time exposure and the majority of eyes are like yours Brett – watching from home. I’m one of those supporters who isn’t impacted by these times. I can attend every game and I really hadn’t considered those who would be impacted until Shelley submitted her post. And though you correctly point out the financial advantages that prime time exposure can deliver for sponsors, it would also be true that commercial partners would not be lost because the club gets one… Read more »

Last edited 13 days ago by sixties

AFL shits all over the NRL, they know exactly how to keep fans happy. Shark park for last years finals was a disgrace , 11,000 fans, for same week AFL averaged 60,000 each game.
The business of the NRL is flawed, changing rules, poor times for games, the judiciary, games in Darwin 30’c+ , inconsistent refs, GF ticket debacle obvious issues with sombrero clubs…. the list goes on and on
They will ruin the best sport there is!
Don’t defend their shit.


Good point. Last years final series was a debacle.

John Eel

If you think AFL fans have nothing to complain about you are deluded.

Clubs not having home grounds, clubs paying for big grounds they can’t fill.

On top of that big drawing clubs like Collingwood get more Melbourne games, less interstate games than minnow clubs Giving them an advantage with less travel and less fatigue


Brett I think you’re reply is a bit rude mate, but that’s your call and I get your point. As mentioned by a few here – issue being people who are members travelling down and also after memberships have been paid for the draw being released. I get it abt the TV and all the fan fare and wonderful BS lighting – who looks at it anyway…? Who wants to travel 2 hrs each way and then park and watch a game that starts at 8 pm, then get out of the area and home to the coast, and then… Read more »


I think Brett is interstate Milo.


I don’t think Shelley is complaining about the odd Thursday or 6pm Friday game. In fact she says every club should accept their fair share. Its the uneven spread of those games amongst all clubs.


Nelson didn’t applaud the fans … he waved goodbye as an insult. As to the draw it is what it is, if you can’t make it put the tickets up for resale or give them to a mate, frankly many of us prefer the thursday and Friday because the weekends are packed with family and school activities.


Mick, Shelley was being facetious in describing what Nelson did. She was well aware of his intent. We all have preferences that suit our situations. But to have four matches scheduled at a time that you can’t attend means that one third of your membership package is wasted. And I think that Shelley’s call for membership rollover to occur after the draw is known is probably a fair suggestion.


But the point here is because it doesn’t suit you doesn’t mean it doesn’t suit others so it’s a moot point. And frankly we’ve had favourable draws for years including this year – first 2 games are home games which is ideal for the team and the majority of the fans. Also our last round before the semi finals is a bye which is perfect … should we complain to the NRL about that at the same time we complain about 6pm starts? This selective picking out of the draw to suit a complaint but ignoring the good parts lacks… Read more »


I disagree Mick, and here’s why. The Eels haven’t had favourable draws for the last few years, in fact they’ve had the opposite including quite a bit of travel in the early rounds last year. Before that there was a couple of years of covid impacted draws so we can leave them aside. But even so, many of us donated our membership fee, which was a case of putting the team first in a major way. As I’ve said, the draw isn’t inconvenient for me, and I hadn’t even considered how it affected others. But Shelley’s post and the replies… Read more »


How does Parra also get to play Round 3, 4 and 5 against MANLY (BYE WEEK BEFORE…ROOSTERS (BYE WEEK BEFORE)..PANTHERS (BYE WEEK BEFORE


You forgot to mention the Eels get the bye the week before the finals …. that’s worth everything and other teams would give their right arms to have a weeks rest before those finals.


I would like to know , out of the 33k members how many a full season ticket holders


It is a large number. I was told last years figures and wish I could remember the break up. Whatever the number is, there are many that don’t turn up. It’s why sell outs have never reached the 30k mark, and some sell outs have only reached 26k to 27K.

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