NRL urged to make major change amid backlash over 'dead rubber' games

Calls are growing for the NRL to follow the lead of other sports by addressing the end-of-season issue.

Pictured left to right, players from the Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers.
The Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers are both likely to rest players for their last regular season match after already booking their place in the NRL finals. Pic: Getty

The prospect of teams "running dead" in the final round of the regular season has renewed calls for the NRL to follow football's lead and play all games on the same day at the same time. Guaranteed top four sides Brisbane, Penrith, the Warriors and Melbourne have all indicated they will rest key players to ensure they are fully fit for the first week of the finals.

Fifth-placed Newcastle, locked in for a home final in week one, will also keep several players on ice. Teams playing later in the round will have the luxury of knowing exactly what is required from them to secure certain spots on the ladder, which could lead to further withdrawals.

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In most major football leagues around the world, the last round of the regular season kicks off at the same time, on the same day. It means teams can’t contrive or manipulate results to shore up their place on the table, whether it be a battle for silverware, fighting off relegation or securing a qualifying spot in major knock-out competitions like the Champions League.

The benefits of simultaneous kick-offs were famously illustrated in 2012 when Manchester City won their first Premier League title in 44 years with almost the last kick of the season, denying bitter cross town rivals Manchester United the crown. Pictures were beamed around the world showing Man U players, coaching staff and fans crowded around radios and mobile phones at Sunderland awaiting updates from the City game, and the disappointment that followed as new of City's late escape filtered through.

Seen here, Manchester City's players celebrate winning the English Premier League title in 2012.
Manchester City's Premier League title triumph in 2012 was Premier League final-day drama at its very best. Pic: Getty

Commentator Martin Tyler's call of the last few crazy minutes of City's comeback has become part of football folklore. NFL broadcasters introduced RedZone a number of seasons ago, allowing them to switch quickly between games to capture dramatic moments.

NRL could follow the lead of overseas competitions

It’s proved to be highly popular, especially among younger viewers accustomed to being on multiple devices while watching live sport. The NRL has shown little appetite to alter its schedule in the past, arguing teams have earned the right to rest players should they see fit.

Playing the last round at the same time would also require major buy-in from broadcasters Fox Sports and Channel 9 and that seems highly unlikely. But Penrith's 2003 grand final hero Scott Sattler believes those challenges should be overcome for the greater good of the game.

"I don't care (about the broadcasting issues), I just love it," he told Radio SEN. "I'd be switching (and using) RedZone and thinking 'the Cows, well, they need to beat Penrith and where's Souths-Roosters at?

"The Broncos…they're trying to hold onto a potential minor premiership – how are they going?' I love the theatrics, I love the romantic side of it all."

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