The penalty crackdown almost ruined the game.
The penalty crackdown almost ruined the game.

Buzz: Finally I can #NRLtalkthegameup

A year ago, rugby league was just about broke and couldn't get a $50 million bank loan.

The administration was at war with clubs over funding. The clubs were fighting among themselves. Players were threatening to go on strike.

John Grant was hanging around like a bad smell. The independent commission was going hopelessly.

Likewise the football department under Brian Canavan and Tony Archer. The penalty crackdown almost destroyed the game and made some matches unwatchable. We had claims of a toxic culture in the refereeing ranks.

 

Rugby league was, dare I say it, a shit game.

Fast forward to what we have today and what has been achieved since.

Your narky old columnist is running out of things to complain about.

Mr Grant is now just a bad memory. Mr Archer and Mr Canavan have been moved on.

The football department is under the control of Graham Annesley, who is determined to stop the penalty blitz and bring back fast, free-flowing football - the game and the style of footy we love.

No more suggestions of nepotism ­because Annesley will have the final say in all appointments.

John Grant has moved on from his role as ARLC chairman. Picture: Brett Costello
John Grant has moved on from his role as ARLC chairman. Picture: Brett Costello

We will also have fines and contrary conduct charges for sin-bin dawdlers, like when arguing players stopped the game for more than a minute last year. There will be a 25-second shot clock in 2019.

Other great ideas are being implemented. We can reveal that the NRL is considering introducing an 18th man from next season.

The code's influential competition committee discussed the radical plan last week, put forward by Cowboys coach Paul Green, to allow all teams to carry five players on the interchange bench.

 

Paul Green has some great ideas for rugby league. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Paul Green has some great ideas for rugby league. Picture: Alix Sweeney

 

But they would still only be allowed to use four during the 80 minutes.

The idea aims to give coaches a wider choice of players to use, depending on the state of the game and injuries.

Importantly, the plan would also ease the pressure on teams which lose a back to an HIA assessment early in the game. Coaches are often forced to switch a back-rower to the backs to fill the gap.

Your columnist likes this idea a lot.

The administration of the game has improved out of sight, and not just with the appointment of Annesley.

We now have some great operators on the independent commission in Peter V'landys, Mark Coyne and Amanda Laing.

 

Mark Coyne has joined the ARLC commission. Picture: Mark Evans
Mark Coyne has joined the ARLC commission. Picture: Mark Evans

 

V'landys is the best sporting administrator in the country. Coyne knows his footy and has a great business track record, while Laing knows the media landscape and the legal ­issues that go with it better than just about anyone.

The commission is even talking about a long-term investment strategy and involving the smartest minds in the game, such as Roosters supremo and car-yard tycoon Nick Politis.

Look at the enormous progress in the international game, driven by the NRL and not the RLIF.

The Test against Tonga was never part of the international calendar but NRL bosses Todd Greenberg, Peter Beattie and big Mal Meninga made sure it happened.

 

The Test against Tonga was a huge success.
The Test against Tonga was a huge success.

That atmosphere in Auckland was out of this world. A bit like Lang Park in the old days.

We now have a genuine international game. Australia, England, New Zealand and Tonga plus all the ­emerging Pacific nations.

Look back to the financial crisis a year ago. The major banks didn't want a bar of us. Now we are poised to post a $50 million surplus.

Crowds and memberships are up in a tough entertainment market.

Even the slide in junior participation numbers has been arrested.

Last year the women's game was largely invisible while the Matildas, the AFL girls and the female cricket team dominated media space.

This year the women's State of ­Origin outrated many men's sports. The NRL launched a fabulous elite competition. It's been a phenomenal success at all levels.

 

Talesha Quinn and Kezzie Apps celebrate winning the women's State of Origin game. Picture: Adam Head
Talesha Quinn and Kezzie Apps celebrate winning the women's State of Origin game. Picture: Adam Head

 

The chaotic transfer dramas of more recent times are being ­addressed.

A long overdue transfer window will be set up for players and possibly coaches. The sooner the better.

We also need some of the clubs to stop spending money as recklessly as they now do.

When you weigh everything up, this has been a very good year for the code. Probably a 7.5 or eight out of 10.

There is still a long way to go but we now have a genuine reason to #NRLtalkthegameup.

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