Game on! NRL confirms season length, grand final date
Sydney is still expected to host the NRL grand final with rugby league set for its latest finish in the game's history when the premiership decider is played on October 25.
ARLC chairman Peter V'landys announced a new-look 20-round competition will recommence on May 28 pushing the original grand final date back from its planned date of October 4.
The NRL's grand final was set to make a historic return to the SCG for the first time in 33 years but that is now in doubt with the season running until the end of October. The SCG is already booked for the Twenty20 World Cup and Australia is drawn to play Pakistan at the venue just 24 hours before the NRL grand final.
While there are suggestions the cricket event will be cancelled, it is expected a decision will not be made until August. With the SFS out of play and ANZ Stadium due to be undergoing renovations from June, Bankwest Stadium - which holds 30,0000 people - could host the grand final if the cricket goes ahead. The questions around crowd could be a moot point with the government no certainty to ease its restrictions by then.
V'landys made the announcement on Tuesday after a 20 round season - down five from a normal season - after weeks of negotiations with broadcast partners Foxtel and Channel 9. He landed in-between the desires of both organisations after Foxtel pushed for an extended season while Nine wanted teams to play each other just once. The length ensures the integrity of the season and an opportunity for those winless clubs to still push for a top four finish including two-time defending champions the Roosters.
With two rounds already completed, there will be 18 more regular season matches this year. State of Origin will be played after the grand final and will run three consecutive weeks in November.
Project Apollo will put the finishing touches on the NRL's season structure on Wednesday with the end of the season expected to feature blockbuster rivalry rounds once everyone has already played.
V'landys said a revamped draw and Origin timings will be worked out within the next fortnight. He described the new-look draw as a "landmark day for rugby league in 2020.
"This is a great outcome for our players, fans, partners and stakeholders and I'm extremely appreciative for the co-operation and support from Hugh Marks (Nine boss) and Patrick Delany (Foxtel chief executive)," V'landys said. "Both have always acted in good-spirit and have demonstrated how partners work together."
Financial ramifications of a shortened season are yet to be worked out but it could cost the game upwards of $40 million.
V'landys jumped on a conference call with club bosses to tell them of the good news on Tuesday afternoon.
Project Apollo will also give serious consideration to implementing an 18th man emergency player when it meets on Wednesday.
Under the proposal, teams will be able to name an 18th man who is only allowed to take to the field if a player is ruled out of a match because of a head injury. It is the possible rule change which has the most support from coaches and the NRL's workload-balance committee which considered four possible amendments.
Among the other possible changes included; lifting interchanges from eight to 10, having a 15-minute halftime instead of 10 and potential for drink breaks at the 20th minute mark.
However, those changes do not have the support of the 16 coaches but will still be spoken about when the committee meets. The discussions were aimed at ensuring players safety amid fears they could be susceptible to injuries and underdone with less than a month of training before they return to the field.
Any lifting of the interchange or extending half-time was only to be brought in for the opening two or three weeks of the NRL resuming before reverting back to the way things were.
But the introduction of an 18th man when a player is ruled out because of concussion could become a permanent move.
The NSWRL introduced new concussion protocols into all its competitions this season that included an extra player on the interchange for a concussion substitution.
The workload balance committee is also looking at measures to ensure players receive the required support staff in terms of massage therapists and physiotherapists to aid with their recovery and preparation. Clubs will have to cut-down on the number of staff they have with the team. It is understood a list of 50 will have to be registered with the NRL which will include about 32 players.
Originally published as Game on! NRL confirms season length, grand final date