With the grand final nearly three weeks ago – and the Kangaroos’ international commitments over (though there’s plenty of NRL talent in the England v New Zealand series) – it’s time to look to 2019.
The 2019 draw released last Thursday had plenty of talking points:
- With the SFS unavailable, there’s more footy at the SCG (though there’ll be some juggling with the Sydney Swans), while Parramatta finally agreed to play at Western Sydney Stadium (avoiding a massive headache for the NRL).
- More bush footy and the first Origin in Perth.
- Brisbane again getting a glut of Channel Nine matches, with seven Thursday night games, seven Friday night games and two Sunday 4pm games. I could spend time arguing the pros and cons of this (Brisbane are the biggest-rating team and deserve the exposure versus Brisbane are getting an unfair advantage with regular seven-day turnarounds), but we’ve heard it all before and it won’t stop the commercial realities from winning. How Brisbane reacts to Magic Round (especially games not involving the Broncos, Cowboys, Titans and Storm) will be interesting. Is eight games at Lang Park in four days too much? How will the new self-professed ‘heartland’ cope?
My main talking point: the huge boost for rugby league in Melbourne, with the Storm opening the season at AAMI Park against Brisbane.
While the Storm have dominated the Broncos of late (the Broncos’ last win was round 25 2016, when the Storm had the minor premiership secured), the Storm and Broncos are always entertaining, so opening the season with them makes sense. More importantly, it’s in Melbourne. It would’ve been easy to schedule it at Lang Park, with a guaranteed 40,000 on the first Thursday night of the season. The NRL made some mistakes with the Storm’s two home finals this year, scheduling them against blockbuster AFL finals at the ‘G. Not only were the Storm fans outnumbered by the almost 200,000 fans going to Melbourne v Geelong and Richmond v Collingwood, but it would’ve created peak hour chaos in an already crowded Melbourne CBD (try catching a tram after 5pm on a normal day). Scheduling a blockbuster Storm home game on a AFL-free night will really gauge Melbourne’s love of the Storm.
Melbourne are also hosting the Australian Indigenous All-Stars v New Zealand Maori game on February 15 (a women’s and men’s double header), an important reboot for a wonderful concept in danger of growing stale. Hopefully there’s a huge crowd at AAMI Park.
While the ARL and Super League’s ventures into Perth and Adelaide didn’t work (though the NRL are trying hard to keep Perth in the loop with regular premiership games and Origin), the Storm have been successful. They’ve made nine grand finals, won three “official” premierships, only missing the finals three times, and handed the wooden spoon in 2010 as punishment for the salary cap drama.
Speaking of which, the Storm should be commended for bouncing back so quickly: since 2011, they’ve played in four grand finals for two premierships. Most of the credit goes to Craig Bellamy, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. With Bellamy and Smith still around, expect the Storm to be top four contenders again this season.
Some fans hate the Storm – either out of jealousy, hating that a non-traditional league state is dominating the game, not liking Smith or lingering anger from the salary cap problems, but – like Wes Mantooth said to Ron Burgundy – you have to respect them.
Love or hate the Storm, their growth (exemplified by the big season opener against the Broncos and the All Stars game) is wonderful for rugby league in Victoria.