NRL talk to Fox Sports about game schedules

The NRL has taken a major step towards easing the burden on the game’s elite players by opening talks with broadcasters over a revised schedule for 2012 which would result in the introduction of a stand-alone representative weekend.

After a week dominated by renewed complaints over the taxing demands of the representative season, the NRL held talks with Fox Sports to gauge their reaction to the proposed schedule changes for next season.

Officials will meet Channel Nine executives next week. Under the revised plan, devised by NRL football operations manager Nathan McGuirk in consultation with the clubs, the season would begin a week early to accommodate a stand-alone weekend featuring a Test between Australia and New Zealand and the traditional City-Country game.

State of Origin games would continue to be played on Wednesday nights but crucially only one Friday night game would follow those matches, rather than the existing two. The NRL will also move to ensure the selected Friday night game does not include any sides with a traditionally high number of Origin players.

It means the likes of Brisbane, Melbourne and St George Illawarra would be spared from playing only two days after an Origin game. The changes need to be rubber-stamped by the game’s broadcasters, but NRL officials are optimistic they can strike a deal which would provide some relief to leading players.

“Everyone needs to accept that we have three successful levels of football and that’s something the other codes can’t do, but a consequence of that is that it presents some challenges and despite people wanting a perfect solution, there isn’t one,” Gallop said.

“Season 2012 presents a unique opportunity with Anzac Day falling on a Wednesday, we can have a stand-alone Test and City-Country weekend prior to Anzac Day. But we would need the broadcasters to buy into that.”

While the proposal is only in its infancy, it received mixed reviews yesterday. Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin, whose club had five players in the May 6 Test and four in Origin I, backed the plan but warned it did not go far enough.

“Obviously anything that helps reduce the workload on the players, or increases their recovery time, we’d be in favour of,” Griffin said. “But even with a Friday night off after a Wednesday Origin, they’d have to play Saturday or Sunday so it’s still two games in a week for the best players in the game.

“It’s a help and I don’t want to be sound negative about it. But at some stage we’ll be taking back ownership of the game with the independent commission.”

Griffin said if Friday night was the huge TV ratings winner, then it should host Origin with no NRL club games that weekend.

“Ideally I’d like to see where the Origin and NRL matches are separated because I think they deserve to be rather than cluttered on top of each other,” he said.

Rugby League Professionals Association (RLPA) chief executive David Garnsey endorsed the decision to play the Test and City-Country on a stand-alone weekend, but said the remaining changes did nothing to solve the game’s major problem.

In that regard, the NRL is hamstrung to an extent by existing broadcast contracts. However, all bets are off when talks begin for a new deal from 2013. “My reaction to the move that has been suggested is that it doesn’t cure the problems that have been identified,” Garnsey said. “It’s not going to solve the burn-out issue.”

Meanwhile, Gallop said the idea of clubs reaching a unified stance on the game’s big issues was an admirable goal, but stressed it would be difficult to achieve.

It was revealed that the clubs were pushing for a summit to be held to achieve consensus on issues such as broadcasting rights, season structure and expansion. A meeting of club officials is scheduled for next month, but Gallop conceded it could be brought forward to discuss the game’s big-ticket items.

“We definitely plan to discuss these issues at a meeting in July,” he said. “It’s not clear whether there is a need to bring it forward, but everyone has plenty of opportunities to put forward ideas. A unified approach is a great goal, but a difficult one to achieve.”

by Buford Balony

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