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NRL boss makes big call on grand final as debate swirls around Warriors

The success of the NZ Warriors has sparked renewed debate around what time the NRL grand final should kick off.

Pictured left is Penrith with the NRL grand final trophy in 2022 and Warriors players on the right.
The NRL grand final in 2023 is set to kick off at the scheduled time regardless of whether the Warriors qualify for it. Pic: Getty/AAP

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo has emphatically shut down debate around changing the kick-off time for this year's grand final. The resounding success of the New Zealand Warriors - who are just one win away from qualifying for the 2023 showpiece - has sparked renewed calls for the biggest game on the NRL calendar to shift to a more viewer-friendly time - particularly across the ditch.

Some fans have already taken aim at the NRL for scheduling the Warriors' preliminary final against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium at 7:50pm (AEST) on Saturday night, considering the game won't finish until close to midnight for fans in New Zealand. If the Warriors are able to upset the Broncos on Saturday night and win through to the grand final on Sunday week, it will be a similar situation with the match locked in for a 7:30pm kick-off in Sydney.

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To make matters even worse for fans in NZ though, the October 1 date of the NRL grand final is also the first day of daylight savings in Australia. It means the match won't kick off until 10:30pm NZ time and won't finish until well after midnight.

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
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The Warriors have been one of the feel-good stories of the season in 2023, with tickets selling out at their Mt Smart home games almost as quick as the team's jerseys at the club's merchandise stores. Understandably, the grand final kick-off time would not be ideal for Warriors fans travelling to and from New Zealand, as well as the many fans watching it with their families back home.

The NRL did trial twilight grand finals kicking off at 5:30pm (AEST) for a number of years before it reverted to the later night slot in 2013, favoured by the broadcasters who pump millions of dollars into the game. Speaking about the possibility of the NRL shifting the grand final to an earlier kick-off time if the Warriors do qualify, Abdo explained why officials are keen to keep it the way it is.

“At this stage there are no plans to move the kick-off regardless of which teams are playing in the competition,” Abdo said. “We have contracted positions for good reasons around these kick-off times.

“It’s around about this time every year that we have the debate about moving the kick-off earlier (in the day). We’re really comfortable with the (kick-off time) because it’s a full day of football. The grand final is pretty unique and special for our sport because we have three games of football.

“It’s pretty entertaining, we have fans there from early (in the day) and a 7:30pm kick-off means that goes all around Australia in prime time.” Abdo and the NRL have faced calls to move the Warriors preliminary final against Brisbane to an earlier timeslot like they did with the Auckland-based side's previous two finals games that kicked off at 4pm AEST (6pm NZ time).

Pictured left to right, members of the Warriors and Broncos NRL teams.
The Warriors and Broncos will play at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night for a spot in the NRL grand final. Pic: Getty

NRL not budging around night-time grand final

With the Brisbane Lions hosting Carlton at the Gabba in an AFL preliminary final that begins at 5.15pm, however, the NRL were mindful of the potential clash with the Brisbane-Warriors match at Suncorp Stadium. “Wherever possible, we try to think about our fans and we try to make sure everyone has accessibility to the game, whether that’s live or on television,” Abdo added.

“Having said all that, 7:50pm on a Saturday is prime-time television and it’s going to give a lot of families and a lot of people an opportunity to enjoy a high-quality match. We were fortunate enough to be able to work with the broadcast partners and many stakeholders to get some changes made over the last couple of weeks when we were playing in New Zealand.

“It was great to see a 6pm kick-off at Go Media Stadium and we had great audiences here in Australia, but we’re now in the preliminary finals and we’re playing in Australia. We’ve got a 7.50 kick-off for Friday and Saturday, and I’m really excited for both games.”

NRL legend Gorden Tallis said he understood the argument around TV ratings and broadcast dollars that the NRL is always keen to remind fans about when the grand final debate hots up every year. However, he argued that some things are bigger than money and watching grand finals on a Sunday afternoon with friends and family as a kid is part of how he fell in love with the sport.

“Some things are bigger than ratings and I think kids sitting with their families and sitting with their dads and having BBQs,” Tallis said on NRL 360. “I think the game belongs to the people and they should have it earlier so all the kids (can watch it). That’s how I fell in love with the game, sitting there with my dad watching grand finals. At night time the kids normally fall asleep.”

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