Buzz: Proof fans have fallen back in love with NRL
DISGRUNTLED fans have fallen back in love with rugby league.
And independent commission boss Peter V'landys says it's because coaches and rule committees are no longer 'a handbrake on the game.'
Faster play the balls, more tries, more line breaks and more football combined with fewer penalties and fewer stoppages resulted in a whopping 13 per cent increase in Fox Sports television ratings last weekend - and that's not including viewers on their live streaming service Kayo.
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Since the game returned from the COVID-19 break, fans are getting an extra eight tries each week, an extra 21.6 minutes of actual football and a 27 per cent decrease in penalties.
Line breaks have also increased by 29 per cent from the fatigue effect of a faster game.
The only negative is that blowouts have caused an increase of 3.5 points in winning margins, not that anyone can complain about the glorious style of football the Roosters have treated fans to in demolishing the Broncos 59-nil and the Bulldogs 42-6.
NRL commission chairman Peter V'landys could not be happier.
"I've had so many old fans contact me to say they've come back to rugby league," he said, "They're loving it and that's music to my ears.
"The message is this … if you want to watch wrestling go and watch WWE.
"We were told loud and clear in the broadcast negotiations that the game was becoming robotic, predictable and not entertaining. That's our business … entertainment.
"You can't be complacent if you're going to grow so we reacted.
"We'd been insulated in our own little bubble for too long.
"With the six again and the one referee, the brilliant players have come to the fore. Teddy and Turbo and Jack Wighton. They are so great to watch, even if you don't follow their clubs."
He attended a rules and competition meeting late last year and almost got laughed out of the room when he mentioned the 'six again' rule and one referee.
"For too long participants (coaches, ex-players) have been making the rules and regulations," V'landys said.
"They do things for themselves, for their own rosters and their own backyards.
"It might sound controversial but having committees made up of participants has been a handbrake on the game.
"I'm not being critical of coaches because their job has always been to look after their own clubs.
"You have to listen to the consumers like all good businesses do. Without them you've got no revenue and without revenue you've got no game. Everything we do has to have a consumer focus.
"My job is to look after the people that part with their money each weekend to watch rugby league.
"Every decision we make should be around making the game more entertaining.
"The world has changed and what was relevant in 1990 is not necessarily relevant in 2020."
Fox Sports Head of Television Steve Crawley agrees.
"There's no doubt the new rules have given us more exciting football," Crawley said.
"People are really enjoying the product again.
"We are rapt at the way the game is now being managed and to have a long term broadcast deal in place."
The improvement in the quality of football since the COVID-19 resumption is why the NRL's Head of Football Graham Annesley sent out a stern reminder to clubs and coaches about continuing to play within the spirit of the game.
"We've now got a great product and we've got to make sure we maintain it," he said.
"That's why we sent out the message - we don't want them to try to reverse the benefits we've got from the new rules."
Veteran Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler likes what he has seen.
He was one of many coaches who were originally sceptical.
"It's important now that the referees don't slacken off," he said.
"They've got to continue to be really consistent around the ruck for this type of football to continue.
"We've also got to remember a good defensive game is just as appealing and thrilling when the scores are close and the game is going down to the wire. So far the balance has been good.
"The willingness to vary rule and law interpretations shows just how strong and robust the NRL game is as it caters to broadcasters, fans, sponsors, players, coaches and clubs alike. A sure bet is this will not be the last of the rule changes."