When the NRL CEO, David Gallop, tires of the politics of rugby league, he should follow his deputy, Graeme Annesley, into real politics. He will take to it like a duck to water given his capacity to explain the unexplainable.
His latest explanation in response to anger from fans over the abandoning of Sunday afternoon finals matches (not to mention the grand final) would do Howard and Beazley proud.
Last year, matches on the second and third weekends of the finals were held on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. This year they are on Friday night and Saturday night.
Because that’s how Channel Nine wanted it.
David Gallop’s justification for the no Sunday afternoon finals is that the NRL believes it is fair to keep the two matches as close as possible, so one winning team does not get an undue advantage with a longer lead-up time to the grand final. Hmm, so which is closer: a Friday night and a Saturday night final, or a Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon final?
Sunday matches have been a key part of the NRL for decades, yet you get the impression that the Eels’ irrepressible CEO, Dennis Fitzgerald, might be close to the mark when he calls for the end of Sunday afternoon football full stop.
Why? It’s all driven by television, or, more particularly by Channel Nine. The wishes of fans have been ignored, but that has never bothered Nine in the past.
The switch from Sunday afternoon to Friday night finals is a happy coincidence (really?) with Nine’s decision to televise one match of each round live next year on a Friday night, to be followed by a second Friday night match on replay.
So it is hardly surprising the second and third weekends of the finals this year feature Friday night live matches.
Following a campaign by sections of the media, notably the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the NRL has promised to revisit the question of Sunday afternoon finals in the off season. If you expect there to be a change then you are more of an optimist than I am!
Meanwhile this Friday night is going to be an interesting ratings battle in Sydney – and to a lesser extent in Brisbane. The Bulldogs v Broncos game will be live on Nine, and the Swans v Fremantle game live on Ten.
And wonders never cease – on Saturday night, Nine in Melbourne will be showing the Melbourne Storm v St George-Illawarra Dragons live!