Why NRL should stick to Sunday Origin games

WHO'S running this show, Channel 9 or the NRL? More to the point: Channel 9 or the fans?

Word that the bean counters at Nine weren't happy with the ratings for Sunday night's wonderful Origin match shouldn't come as a surprise.

A mere 3.7 million viewers - making it the second highest watched program of the year behind Game 1 - won't make up for the ratings free fall currently being suffered by the networks' two Footy Shows, but what is worrying is speculation that Nine will pressure the NRL to end the Sunday night experiment.

End it? They should extend it. Forget about one Sunday Origin a year, there should be three.

Now you can't expect Channel 9 to ever put the game ahead of their bottom line, but it would be nice if the NRL did for once.

And midweek Origin just doesn't work.

Maybe back in the old days when players hopped on a plane for Sydney or Brisbane a couple of days before the game and were back at training the next night, but not now.

For all of its colour, movement and excitement, when it comes to the NRL competition Origin is little more than one massive disruption.

Sure it is great to get swept away in 240 minutes of sensational interstate rivalry every year, but when it could cost your team its chance of making the eight, or even winning the premiership, it comes at a huge cost.

To say nothing of the quality of club football that is on show when the best players in the game are unavailable.

Club supporters stump up big-time to buy season tickets in order to get along to the ground each week. They deserve to see their team at full strength against other teams at full strength.

The same with pay TV viewers who sign up to watch every game live and uninterrupted, and the pay TV network that paid a motza to buy the rights.

To say nothing of the massive amount of money wagered on games. How can it be a fair market if the best thoroughbreds are on the sideline?

If you forked out for a ticket to watch U2 you wouldn't cop being told that Bono and The Edge weren't performing because they were taking part in a Hall of Fame concert, would you?

So why should you accept watching the Storm play the Knights without Billy Slater and Kalyn Ponga?

The only teams that benefit from midweek Origin are the ones without Origin players. In other words the Warriors and whoever is at the bottom of the table. Every year the Kiwis and the Nevilles get a free kick.

The NRL can try moving things around with split-rounds all they like, but it doesn't work.

The only solution was there for all to see on Sunday night, and it worked an absolute treat.

Fans should be able to watch Billy Slater in action for both the Storm and Queensland. Picture: Adam Head
Fans should be able to watch Billy Slater in action for both the Storm and Queensland. Picture: Adam Head

The game was a bottler, the non-Australian players got the chance to represent their countries in a well-supported international showpiece and the competition wasn't affected because it wasn't on.

All the NRL has to do is work out how to fit in two more Sunday games (or maybe even Saturday so there's no work or school the next day).

It shouldn't be too hard. Scrap a trial match, move the competition forward a week and play one midweek round like they did back in the old Amco Cup days.

Do it early in the season when the teams are still finding their feet anyway, and no-one's the wiser.

As for Channel 9, they can just cop it sweet. Contrary to what they might believe, they don't own the game - and it's high time the NRL let them know it.