By Matthew Brown, Date: 6/3/14

Well it’s that time of year again where the footy (at least here in Australia) kicks off again! There’s numerous big encounters happening and I personally can’t wait for the footy to start! Like any year there have been numerous areas to talk about and I wanted to highlight how this will impact Rugby League in 2014! So let’s get to it!

Record Investment

Dave Smith, the NRL CEO announced a BIG investment into the game’s future! He announced a MASSIVE $200 million investment into Rugby League in the game in 2014. One for one am very excited and cannot wait to see the results of these investments, all details can be found here

Some of the areas include;
– $80 million for a commercial return fund.
– $120 million will be spent on football and participation, fans and members and financial sustainability and governance.
– $4 million already has been spent on a membership drive and player education and welfare in the three months since the end of the 2013 financial year (October 31).
– A further $30 million has been identified to invest in key programs including activities to create a stronger fan and membership culture.

Now this sounds fantastic! It is great that the NRL has realized its mistakes in the past and helped keep the fans (their number 1 priority) to encourage them to go and get involved in the game! After a year when crowd numbers dwindled in 2013, it’s good that they have firmly tried to encourage more people to go to the footy!

Rugby League 9s, Touch and Oz Tag (still in negotiations) are being heavily utilized by the ARLC as important development strategies of Rugby League! It is fantastic that we have an organization which wants to (finally) become associated from sports which historically have always (and should have been) associated with Rugby League!
Transport Inclusion

Another good sign is that when NRL fans buy tickets for ANZ stadium games, they get free transportation as well! This is well overdue because ANZ stadium can be very tricky when trying to go to the football. Trains will now travel from Central Station and go straight to ANZ Stadium! This is fantastic because it will encourage more fans to go to games at ANZ stadium and more conveniently. So when people have to travel to ANZ from places such as the Central Coast, Hunter Region, Penrith of Wollongong, they can catch public transport much more easily and not have to worry about changing trains.

Rule Changes

Rules changes this year (in theory) have helped improve the game itself.
Some of the rule changes include;
– Zero tackle from 20m restart- The first tackle after a 20m optional kick will be called a zero tackle.
– 40/20 tap- 40/20 kick will restart play with a tap kick 20m in from the touch at the point it crossed the line instead of at a scrum.
– Conversion time limit- The referee will call time-off at approximately 1min 20sec following the scoring of a try. Fines will still apply to clubs when a player takes longer than 1min 40sec to take a conversion.
– Captains talking to referees- Captains will only be able to speak to referees during a stoppage in play (tries, injury break or when referee is issuing a caution).
– Cannon ball and Crusher tackles- Will be scrutinized more closely by Match official reviews.
– Concussion laws- Clubs will be heavily penalized if a player takes the field if they are deemed concussed during a match.

Now when the NRL decided to make these changes, they consulted fans and officials of the game. In theory these are good ideas and will help speed up the game. I admire the NRL in helping to create rules which help benefit the game and for listening to the fans. It is also good that they are taking the well fair of players seriously and implementing sanctions against concussed players.

The Verdict

I believe that the NRL have done a great job putting investments back into the game and helping to develop grassroots football and encouraging the fans to keep involved in the game at different levels. It is a breath of fresh air that they have finally marketed the common NRL fan to become involved in the great game of Rugby League. Also including public transport in game day tickets are a fantastic idea as well!

The down side however is the rule changes. I said before that I “admire” the NRL on the rule changes, however, it disappoints me that the RLIF was not consulted on the changes. From the start, the Chairman John Grant said he wanted to closely work with the RLIF and help grow the game internationally. Also Dave Smith said how important the International game is to the game of Rugby League. By the NRL going and doing their own thing by implementing rules by themselves, they are basically undermining the world governing body which shows little to no respect for their authority.

The NRL is and will well into the future be the premier Rugby League sporting competition in the world! It has a healthy bank balance, fantastic competition and finally we have an independent board that are forward thinking and want to do what’s best for the game. The real downside however is that the NRL are becoming like the NFL where the only real country who plays the game are Americans!

I love Rugby League and I’m sure 2014 will be a great year for the NRL, however I do not want it to go down the path the NFL has!