Last weekend’s rep round was amazing: three wonderful games (Women’s Origin and the two Pacific Tests) was a perfect lead-in to a brilliant Origin II (at least for NSW fans).
There was bound to be a few nervous suits – a whole weekend without the NRL could give an advantage to AFL or rugby. Origin on a Sunday night was a risk too, with the Wednesday nights games a ratings bonanza for Nine, and a shorter preparation for players.
In the other camp, an NRL-free weekend wouldn’t punish Origin-heavy teams being forced to field weakened teams (something Brisbane have battled since 1988) and jeopardise their finals hopes.
Luckily, it worked.
The Women’s Origin was fantastic; while the crowd was small, the venue – North Sydney Oval – was perfect and the game was close. It showed that women’s footy is worth watching.
The Pacific Tests were fantastic, especially the Samoa v Tonga game, with the 20,000-strong crowd providing a great atmosphere. Campbelltown was covered in blue and red and the crowd was singing and cheering until the end.
It makes sense that rep round should be extended in 2019.
So why not triple it?
Cut the NRL competition to 22 rounds (like the good old days) and have three full byes before each Origin game. Keep the current system of games one and three on Wednesday nights and game two on Sunday night.
So how to fill in the weekends?
Extend Women’s Origin to a three-game series (played Friday nights) and a Pacific Test round robin series (featuring Fiji, PNG, Samoa and Tonga) played as Saturday double headers, with a first past the post system. As for the two Sunday games, have a QLD Residents v NSW Residents game or an Origin Legends game (ideally for charity).
How would that affect the NRL? Every team gets six points for the three byes (with two weeks between byes), and 22 full rounds. For players not involved in Origin or Pacific Tests, they get a nice mini-break to have family time, go travelling or recover from injuries. It will also refresh them for the post-finals run from August. Coaches can finally stop complaining about the dreaded Origin drain.
Will it happen? Who knows? The NRL may wish to keep the rep round to one weekend, at least for now.
It’s worth embracing and expanding in the long run though.