Nostalgia for good old days that didn’t exist

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The nostalgic idea that bringing back three matches in a day for the NRL should remain in the distant past.

Nostalgia is not all that it’s cracked up to be – the main reason a lot of footy fans, and unfortunately administrators, ramble on about the “good old days” is because they’ve got a bad memory.

Three grades on the same day was popular with less than 10% of rugby league fans a generation ago. And that’s being charitable.

Ask anyone who played in the older under 23s or Jersey Flegg or straight up third grade and they will tell you that very few fans bothered to turn up early to watch their game.

Reserve-grade fixtures rarely have anything more than half the crowd for the main game until the closing stages of their match. Fans pay to watch the premium content – the main game.

Very few of them were ever bothered to turn up for three matches in a day and don’t let the old fans tell you otherwise as they stare it you through rose-coloured glasses before telling you to get off their lawn.

Nostalgia is great when it comes in the form of teams wearing old-school jerseys, watching old clips on YouTube or looking at old footy cards, but it has its limits.

City-Country-Origin-2017

City pose after winning the final match of City vs Country Origin in 2017 (NRL Photos/Grant Trouville)

Some administrators want to take you back to the era prior to full-time professionalism which came in the 1990s that seems to get better with old footy fans the further it disappears into the rear-view mirror.

What’s next? Reviving the City-County Origin clash, which more often than not meant little apart from another match for players to risk getting injured.

There is also the matter of accommodating the NRLW program into the schedule – with the women’s game expanding to 10 teams and five games a round over the course of a longer season next year, that competition is the one that needs greater prominence, not the lower-grade men’s fixtures.

Josh Jackson. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Resuscitating the three grades in a day concept also means a poorer playing surface for the elite competition.

Back in the supposed “glory days”, the suburban grounds would be a mudheap by the time first grade kicked off. 

Playing surfaces a much better these days but when you have wet weather like we’ve had recently in NSW, the lower grades should “get off the lawn” and play at other venues.

It was a surprise to see the NSW Cup fixtures go ahead at CommBank and Accor stadiums on Saturday before the NRL fixtures. St George Illawarra wisely cancelled the curtain-raiser at WIN Stadium on Sunday.

Xavier Savage. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Extending game day out to three grades would also have a financial effect on clubs in terms of covering extra costs for venue hire – longer shifts for the many stadium staff required to put on a match.

There is a renewed push for a national reserve grade competition from clubs to be played as a curtain-raiser to NRL games, according to Roy Masters in the Sydney Morning Herald, which would relegate the NSW and Queensland state cups to third-tier irrelevance.

You get the sense that there is political football behind this with the ARL Commission at loggerheads with the NSWRL.

After the ARLC already threatening to slash its $21 million grant to the state body over its controversial boardroom elections, it could further weaken the NSWRL’s standing within the sport by downgrading its main competition.

It’s almost like the ARLC wants to take total control of the cash cow that is State of Origin and the rivers of gold that flow from it. The NSWRL is in danger of going from the most powerful rugby league association in the land to a white elephant within the space of a few decades.

For Queensland, its main competition, the Hostplus Cup, has a much bigger following and attracts a decent level of mainstream media coverage compared to its NSW counterpart.

Traditional clubs such as Redcliffe Dolphins and Wynnum Manly Seagulls, have retained their diehard fans and newer sides like the PNG Hunters and Central Queensland Capras have developed their own followings.

Basically, there is little wrong with the current set-up where NRL clubs use state cup teams, whether playing in the same colours or an affiliated side like the once-mighty Bears of North Sydney or the Sunshine Coast Falcons in Queensland.

Like the idea of going back to three grades in one day, the plan for the national second-tier competition might appear to look good on paper but would look even better after being put through the shredder.



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