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NRL under fire over Warriors move as Panthers call out 'unfair' Broncos detail

Saturday night's NRL spectacle is ruffling more than few feathers across the rugby league world.

Pictured left to right, Warriors and Broncos players in the NRL.
The Warriors will travel to play the Broncos at their Suncorp Stadium home on Friday night for a spot in the NRL grand final. Pic: Getty

The time and location of the New Zealand Warriors' preliminary final against Brisbane on Saturday night is ruffling feathers across the NRL world. The Warriors and Broncos are set to go toe-to-toe at Suncorp Stadium at 7:50pm AEST, with a place in the grand final up for grabs for the winner.

After finishing the regular season in the top-two and winning their qualifying final in week one of the playoffs, the Broncos earned the right to play a preliminary final in their home city. However, the fact it's being played at their Suncorp Stadium home and kicking off at 9:50pm NZ time has left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans and at least one rival club boss.

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Penrith Panthers chief executive Brian Fletcher said while he had no issues with teams hosting finals matches in the first two weeks of the playoffs, he argued that it should not be the case from the preliminary finals onwards. The Broncos are of course one of the biggest threats to Penrith's hopes of a completing a premiership three-peat in 2023, but Fletcher echoed the view of other fans by suggesting they've been given an "unfair" advantage by the NRL.

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.
Discover more of our NRL Finals coverage. (Click here for our full coverage of the NRL Finals.)

“It should be that everybody has the chance to play their semi-finals at home in week one and week two. But, after that, every other final should be played at a neutral, major stadium," he told News Corp.

“Brisbane gets two semi-finals at home and it’s unfair. Why should they play two semi-finals at home?

Fletcher's argument comes after his Panthers finished the season as minor premiers and won their qualifying final, only to find themselves hosting Melbourne Storm at the 83,500-capacity Accor Stadium on Friday night, rather than their 22,500-capacity BlueBet Stadium home. Penrith have of course played their preliminary final at Accor Stadium last year and won through to the grand final.

Kick-off time for Warriors-Broncos clash under scrutiny

As well as the venue for Saturday night's Warriors-Brisbane match, debate has also been raging about the kick-off time, with the match not set to get underway until almost 10pm local time in New Zealand. If the preliminary final goes to extra time, it would likely not finish until after midnight in New Zealand.

The Daily Telegraph’s rugby league reporter Dave Riccio has slammed the NRL over the scheduling of the match, calling it a “badly missed opportunity” for the growth of the game. Riccio praised the NRL for moving the Warriors’ first two finals games to a 4pm (AEST) kick-off time to make it a more viewer-friendly time in New Zealand.

Seen here, Warriors fans pack out Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium during the NRL semi-final win over the Knights.
Warriors fans are seen here packing out Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium during the NRL semi-final win over the Knights. Pic: Getty

However, he feels the NRL have missed a trick by failing to capitalise on the groundswell of support for the Auckland-based side in New Zealand by failing to adjust the kick-off time for Saturday night's preliminary final. The later time slot is of course more attractive to Australian broadcasters and in turn - the NRL.

“We need to have a grasp on what is happening in New Zealand in relation to the growth of the game,” Riccio said on SEN. “It’s unprecedented interest in the Warriors and over-arching that is the NRL. The brand is making inroads like we have never seen in the NRL.

“When we get to discussions about a second team in New Zealand and potentially taking a State of Origin match to New Zealand, you need to jump on any significant opportunities that come your way and that is right now. There is a groundswell of momentum where first-time supporters of the game are buying tickets to go and watch the Warriors play."

Riccio argued that changing the kick-off time to 6pm (AEST) on Saturday night wouldn't make much of a difference to Australian broadcasters, despite the obvious clash with the AFL preliminary final that kicks off between Brisbane and Carlton at the Gabba at 5:15pm.

“There’s nothing to suggest that this Saturday night, by moving it two hours earlier would have a major impact on one, the crowd and two, the TV ratings," Riccio added. “I would argue it would have a greater affect on TV ratings in New Zealand. It’s a badly missed opportunity to kick this game off at 10 o’clock for a midnight finish... and kids staying up until midnight to watch the Warriors.”

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