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Ways an Australian rugby league summer series would work

Oh summer!

Put the kids to bed, grab a beer, settle into your favourite comfy chair and turn on the telly, it’s time to watch the big game. Balmain is playing North Sydney at Leichhardt tonight, live on Foxtel.

What?

If you’re like me, the time between the grand final and the opening round of the new season is far too long. Cricket is good as long as we are smashing the Poms, Sri Lanka, South Africa…it’s ok but I’m not going to chuck a sickie to watch it. The BBL is awesome but I just can’t get into it enough to wear my jersey and paint my face magenta.

The Rugby League World Cup was great. The PNG crowds, watching Tonga smash the Kiwis – you don’t have a pulse if the pre-game didn’t move you. Even Wayne Bennett might have shown some emotion. What about the Poms? Wayne was a converted try away from being Sir Wayne. As good as it was, it still wasn’t enough.

As an old Magpies fan, it got me thinking. What if there was a summer league?

Now before you call the white van, let me explain.

We can’t ask Cameron Smith to play another 10 or 12 more games each year (although he probably would). What about a comp with all the traditional clubs?

Western Suburbs Magpies, Balmain Tigers, North Sydney Bears, even the Newtown Jets.

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Got your attention? Good.

Now a comp needs more than four teams. What about the New South Wales Central Coast? Keep an eye on Singo, he might have a stroke…Newtown and the Central Coast! What about Queensland? Brisbane has been crying out for a second team for years. Can you hear the sirens? No, it’s not the white van coming for me. It’s the Brisbane Bombers. I’m not sure about the name, but they are desperate to play in the NRL. What a better way to prove yourself?

We’ve got Queensland, but we still don’t have enough teams. PNG (it’s a religion for them) are the Queensland Cup premiers. The World Cup crowds showed the support they will get. Tony Sage, what is your mobile number? I want to call to let you and Benny Elias get the West Coast Pirates jerseys made and get your chequebook out, rugby league is coming back.

Wake up the old Perth Western Reds fans, give Mark Geyer a ticket on the red-eye. There is life after the Western Force. Fiji get on board – the summer league express is about to leave the station – you’re in too.

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Just one more stop. Illawarra, dig out your old Rod Wishart jersey, you’re in. You can be the Cutters or the Steelers or the Steel Cutters. Your team will get more than just the pair of socks you were given when you merged.

We just need some players. We can’t ask NRL players to back up or risk injury. So we use the BBL model: a few retired superstars. a sprinkling of known players and a bunch of unknowns; recently-retired NRL and Super League players, those released from NRL and Super League clubs, players forced to play in the UK (as they have no other option) and players in limbo – Todd Carney, Sandor Earl, even Quade Cooper. You fill the rest with non-contracted NSW and Queensland Cup players and those from the country, Pacific Islands and rugby union. For a player on the fringes, he could get paid and play professionally nearly all year round.

Ok, how does the competition work?

    • Played between October and January.
    • Ten to 12 teams play each other once.
    • Sixty-minute games in four quarters – at night – to combat the heat.
    • Thirteen-a-side, four replacements. no interchange, blood/head bins as per NRL.
    • A return to the traditional top five finals system.
    • Games played at traditional grounds Leichhardt, North Sydney Oval, Henson Park, etc.
    • No scrums.

So we have our teams, our players, our grounds and our comp outline. Now, will summer league work?

Not only does it fill the void between NRL seasons, it brings back the traditional clubs and their fans. Brisbane fans will get into it, they’ll have another team that’s not the Broncos and each year’s Queensland Cup grand finalists. We know the fans of the Pacific Islands and the Central Coast teams will come out in their thousands. We will need to win the West but there would be a base to start with. Most importantly, it’s independent from the NRL clubs and players.

How will we fund it? A TV deal, that’s how. All networks are looking for quality sports. Foxtel has a dedicated rugby league channel that shows nothing but replays for six months. I’m all for watching Tommy Raudonikis throw coathangers and a few sneaky uppercuts but would prefer watching fresh new games. They also have a struggling A League and FFA to contend with.

Channel Seven has the Australian Open tennis each year for two weeks, a bit of golf, but nothing that competes with BBL. They have an appetite for rugby league after broadcasting the RLWC. Then we have the Nine Network. Apart from one day/night Test we have re-runs of old shows. Anyone say Optus? Just paid a gazillion for the EPL.

I am not delusional enough to think a summer league will knock off the BBL for ratings, at-ground attendances or its growing popularity. Summer league will attract the rusted-on rugby league fan and the neutral, if produced and marketed well. Apart from a struggling A League, I do not believe there’s another product that could compete against the BBL.

Foxtel and Nine decide to fund and broadcast the competition, the old teams and fans are back. So grab yourself a beer, sit in your comfy chair, the Tigers are playing the Bears. Leichhardt is full. Summer league is here.

It’s still ok to keep an eye on the BBL.

Maybe in time we can add the St George Dragons, the Wellington Orcas or Adelaide Rams…just don’t say the Hunter Mariners or Newcastle may secede from NSW.

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Would it work?

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