17th February 2018, 22:39 | steve_mascord

WE GOT ISSUES: How an NRL game in England might work

WE GOT ISSUES: How an NRL game in England might work


DO you ever feel guilty not paying more attention to the match?

When you’re in the beer queue and you don’t feel anxious about missing some of the action – but know you should be anxious. Or when you leave early to get out of the car park.

Or when you’re more interested in Tweeting from the couch than keeping up with every single run, kick and tackle on the idiot box.

I experienced this guilt on Saturday morning, watching South Sydney beat Wigan at a pub in London frequented by the Try Tag Rugby fraternity and which is so grateful for their custom that it will open at just about any time of the day or night for a TV match.

As much as I wanted to focus on the second half, I couldn’t help but think about the possibilities Wigan and Hull had opened for the future with their trek down under.

Even though all three Super League teams were beaten by their antipodean opposition this weekend, all but one of the matches was competitive. As explained in a previous We Got Issues, the future prospects for matches in Australia could have been narrowed by three floggings.

The most obvious outcome for 2019 should be two Super League teams returning to New South Wales, providing the local tourism authorities are willing to pitch in again. Or maybe another area can be tempted … or more than one area, attracting more than two teams.

But there are widespread reports that the Nines will return to the southern hemisphere scene this time next year. If that’s the case, should Super League teams be invited?

Perhaps, like Great Britain at the end of 2019, they can combine a Nines tournament with 13-a-side matches Down Under (although the home nations may compete separately in the 2019 Nines World Championship before the Lions tour the Pacific).

But what really distracted me from concentrating on the second half on Saturday was the possibility of a reciprocal visit. How would an NRL game in England work?

South Sydney and Brisbane were very close to opening the 2015 season in London after both competed in the World Club Series. St George Illawarra were also interested.

Reportedly, one of the major reasons it never happened was that Australian broadcasters weren’t keen on an NRL game kicking off in the middle of the night – or even very early on a Saturday or Sunday morning – local time.

The time difference in between Britain and NSW is currently 11 hours. As the season progresses, it goes to 10 and then to nine and for a brief period at the end of the year, it’s 12.

My first thought was that perhaps an NRL game could be played as the first match on a Magic Weekend, meaning it would be on around 9.30am in NSW. Early in the season, some Queensland games kick off at that time anyway, as it’s only 8.30am locally because the state does not adopt summer time.

But a helpful Tweeter said that it would be too cold in early March (this year’s NRL season kicks off on March 8). Getting Aussie clubs to venture beyond their front fence at the start of the season is going to be easier than getting them to do it June, as their reluctance to release players for the Denver Test illustrates.

And why complicate an existing occasion when you can create a new one, anyway?

So how do have a successful, profitable match-day promotion and still please broadcasters?

Wigan have shown us the answer. “Buy in” local teams. That’s what they did with the Rabbitohs and Dragons on Saturday – paid them to play.

If South Sydney and Brisbane want to open the NRL season at Wembley, why not compensate two Super League clubs for the loss of a home game and have them play afterwards?

Assuming a kick-off of 8.30am Queensland time is still acceptable, the NRL game could start at 10.30am (or, sneakily, 10.45am or even 10.55am). It would be over by one and two Super League games could follow.

Wigan were the hirer at ANZ Stadium at the weekend. The NRL, or the competing clubs, would be the hirer at Wembley or Etihad Stadium or London Olympic Stadium or Millennium Stadium and the other four clubs would merely be a match day expense.

The visiting clubs would keep the profits and a new property would be added to the British rugby league calendar as well as the NRL finally attempting to spread its own brand.

This leaves only one, vital question.

If there was an opening round NRL match in London or Cardiff or Manchester followed by two Super League games each year, would you go?