The NRL has come out this week and announced that they will be re-formatting the All Stars game, which will be the season opener for 2019. Once again I can’t help thinking that they are off the mark with this game as the showcase to launch the rugby league season.
I love the fact there is some footy on earlier in the year but I fail to see how this match provides anything of long term value to the game of rugby league. There is all this talk about how we should be growing the game and quite frankly it astonishes me that the powers-that-be think that this is the way to go.
What is the value of the All Stars game?
The All Stars game did not make an appearance in 2018 and I for one did not miss it. This is not a game that is of any significance and the re-hashing of it just shows that it is not a winning strategy. It was introduced to try and highlight Indigenous players in the comp and whilst I am not trying to diminish the great contribution that indigenous players make there is a whole indigenous round which we should capitalise on and do better. What I am saying is there has to be a better way to launch the rugby league season.
This one off game does not allow players to develop, they do not form combinations with other “rep“ players, it puts star play makers in jeopardy before the start of the regular season and it lets be frank here it not a ratings winner.
I’m curious to understand how this game fits into the strategic vision of the NRL of growing the game. How does this grow the game? How does this make people more interested in watching rugby league? How does this make junior players want to play rugby league? I’m not privy to the conversations that happen at rugby lLeague headquarters but this is meant to be a showcase game and I just don’t think it reaches that status.
What about recognising the Indigenous Community?
I understand the value that this game has to the indigenous community, but as previously stated there is an indigenous round every year in the regular comp. If you want to be serious about honouring the Indigenous players of this game do it in that round, where it has context and proper recognition. Do not have a mediocre game and try and dress it up as the best that the Indigenous community have. Do the players, fans and the game justice.
How should we start the season?
Simply put, highlight the international game. The game has to look beyond Australia and New Zealand, which is the focus of the re-worked All Stars match. You currently are not strengthening the game, and you are isolating the growth area of the game.
The Rugby League World Cup showcased that the international game is still very poor but it also highlighted that there is a lot of emerging talent in the Pacific Nations, where the game of rugby league is loved and valued. The Pacific Test Match between Tonga and Samoa this year was one of the highlights of season 2018 in my opinion. There is nothing during the regular season that showcases the players of the Pacific Nations and this is where the game is growing and the most passionate followers are from.
Allow the teams of Tonga, Samoa etc. to really grow and to be force to reckon with in years to come. I understand we cannot host a World Cup every year but you can have regular international games.
Has the NRL considered a Davis Cup style approach? Country rep games at the beginning of the season, another round during the state of origin series and one final match at the end of the year. The teams that compete each year are calculated by the rankings of the World Cup. You are constantly growing and strengthening the international game if you put some value into it.
Are you asking too much of the elite players?
The fact remains that the elite players from the Pacific Nations do not compete in as many games in the season as other rep players. If anything you are actually spreading the load around as State of Origin players are not considered for these games, however there are plenty of State of Origin Players that are considered for both these teams.
Is there enough quality players for a good enough game?
Yes, and with something to strive for on a regular basis you will get better quality as it grows. Once again my greatest concern with the All Stars game is that you are bringing players together that will not have the need to play together at any other time, therefore there is no need to really put effort into player combinations. If a player is wanting to represent their nation on a regular basis they will try and combine with other players in that team, making the team and games better in the long run.
The amount of marketing and development spent on the All Stars game is something that should be put towards a longer term approach to growing the game.