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The NRL has made a bombshell call to change the scheduling of Melbourne Storm's preliminary final on Saturday week, after a clash with the AFL grand final left the club and fans outraged.
Melbourne Storm's CEO Justin Rodski hit out at league officials on Monday after describing the clash as a "huge missed opportunity".
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Rugby league headquarters was lashed for scheduling the Storm's match on September 25 to kick off 35 minutes after the first bounce of the AFL grand final in Perth.
With two Victorian teams - Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs - featuring in the decider, the NRL faced a near impossible task of drawing viewers in the southern state.
Following widespread backlash from footy fans, NRL boss Andrew Abdo announced on Monday afternoon they had decided to bring forward the start time to 4pm (AEST) for the Suncorp Stadium clash.
Premiers Melbourne will take on the winner of the Penrith-Parramatta semi-final.
"Rugby League is about the fans who have made it clear across the weekend that they are disappointed about having to choose between the preliminary final and the AFL grand final," Abdo said.
"We pride ourselves on being agile and listening to our fans. It's clear that a small change to the schedule provides the best outcome for our fans in Melbourne who have been incredibly loyal throughout the pandemic."
Abdo said a daytime preliminary final was also a positive outcome for fans in Brisbane, allowing more families to attend the game.
The AFL decider is traditionally an afternoon affair at the MCG but the COVID-19 pandemic forced its relocation to Perth and changed the timeslot to 5.15pm local time (7.15pm AEST).
Rodski said the defending premiers had requested to play Friday night or the 4pm timeslot on Saturday.
The Storm CEO had earlier said that while the clash with the AFL grand final wouldn't affect the Storm's on-field performance, it was a disappointing outcome as his club tried to grow the game.
Initial clash left Storm disappointed
"We're disappointed for our fans," he told SEN Radio on Monday.
"With good planning and good scheduling, it could have been avoided, and we did raise this with the NRL last week.
"Ultimately, it doesn't impact us from a football point of view ... but a big part of this for us is ensuring we continue promote the game of rugby league in Victoria and our fans and members can watch our team play.
"While they still can, we just think it's a huge missed opportunity to be scheduling our game up against the AFL grand final with two Melbourne teams playing."
The NRL's decision to play Melbourne's week-one final against Manly last Friday night impacted the timing of the preliminary final.
Under the NRL's finals system, the league offers seven-day turnarounds for the winners of games in week two before their preliminary finals.
"They're trying to manage the equity from a football perspective, so the first mistake that was made was scheduling our game for the qualifying final on a Friday night, knowing the AFL grand final was going to be in Perth, and a night game in the eastern market," Rodski said.
He said the NRL switched the start time of a final in 2012 to avoid a clash but didn't seem to be convinced this time.
The move comes after Melbourne announced they had re-signed all of coach Craig Bellamy's assistants - Marc Brentnall, Stephen Kearney, Aaron Bellamy and Ryan Hinchcliffe - for at least the next two years.
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