Television rights deal victory for supporters
FANS are the big winners in the NRL's lucrative new TV rights deal with host broadcaster Channel 9, worth close to a billion dollars.
NRL boss Dave Smith released details of the new agreement, which will see game two of the State of Origin series played on a Sunday night from 2018 to help condense the season from 26 to 25 weeks, easing the burden on the game's superstars.
Leading players, including Australian captain Cameron Smith and Queensland and Australian halfback Johnathan Thurston, have been campaigning for scheduling changes for the past few years, and while it is only a small change, it is a starting point.
A Sunday night Origin is a bold move but record-breaking Queensland coach Mal Meninga said he liked the move.
"I'm happy with the new schedule, it's great," Meninga said.
"The stand-alone weekend is a very smart move."
Smith said the Sunday night Origin game would be part of a marquee representative round incorporating a Pacific Test match, helping to reduce demands on the game's top players, while not dramatically affecting the premiership with just one split round.
The new deal, the richest in the game's history worth $925 million, means fans will be able to watch four games a week live on free-to-air television from Thursday night through to Sunday, compared to just two live games under the present arrangement.
"There will be more live games and free rugby league on television - and that is what the fans want," Smith said.
He said the agreement would help secure the long-term financial future of the game.
Pay-TV, New Zealand and international television rights are yet to be negotiated.
As part of the deal, the NRL will regain control of the season schedule, with the premiership being played over 25 weeks instead of 26.
"We will be able to schedule the best games when fans want to see them - and ensure all clubs receive the coverage they deserve on free-to-air television," Smith said.
New Zealand Rugby League officials, meanwhile, were looking for clarification after the annual Anzac Test appeared to be a victim of the rights deal.
The international game has been given a "new priority", meaning it will be played after the NRL season.
The Kiwis hold the Anzac Test trophy after a 26-12 boilover in Brisbane on May 3. It was just the second time New Zealand has won the match in 16 clashes.