It was the type of year which started off on the worst foot possible, two sexual assault scandals, a handful of sponsors not paying for what they received last year, and players who usually had faultless reputations just coughing up the wrong comments at the wrong time. All the media would focus on was how much of a crisis the code was in, and how the sport would just go backwards after such a good 2003 season.
Looking back now six months after all the chaos, its interesting to note that our code has grown again, that we are actually sitting better this year than we were at any stage of last year and things just seem to be looking better for the sport.
Player numbers are up for the code, primarily in Sydney and South-East Queensland who have both enjoyed huge growth off the back of a great 2003. Country Australia has also continued to move forward in most areas, and whilst there is still a lot of work to be done, the sport is well placed to progress into the future.
New ways of getting kids ?playing the ball? have also been introduced 2004 and have been enjoying huge success, reinforcing League?s place as a major sport in this nation. The game?s image at a junior level has also gone through a face lift, with parents now realising that the code has specialised versions for young kids to ensure they are kept safe, whilst still enjoying the fun parts of the sport.
As a result of this growth, government support for our junior levels is also being increased, which will help the code to get out to more areas and get more kids playing.
Growth in our sport has been in more areas that just the number of players as well. Crowd averages are up from 14,632 a week to 14,874, whilst merchandise sales and television viewers are also at new highs.
Throw in a growth in sponsorship, which has been highlighted as recently as just three weeks ago when Carlton and United Breweries poured a few more million into the NRL kitty after enjoying such large success with its joint initiatives with Rugby League.
The sponsorship boom has also extended below the NRL, the NSWRL Premier League picked up a 3 year sponsorship also with Carlton and United, Country Rugby League for the first time ever picked up two Country wide sponsors, whilst junior league associations have also enjoyed a growth in local sponsorship. All this off the back of the growth of our sport.
Now of course not everything in our code is all going well, as shown by our ability to still draw a lot of controversy our way, with both the way our players and officials act.
The sport also still struggles to promote the concept of ?events? to the public, with a lot of the crowd rises coming off a degree of stability in the code (ie, no teams close to disappearing tomorrow, unlike past years) and an improvement with the degree of competitive matches on the field. Of course the list could go on and on in other ways we could improve the way the code promotes itself and runs itself, but that is clearly another Forum Sevens post.
The point remains though despite the hurdles, our code has developed a level of resilience to keep moving forward despite the obstacles that may be put in front of it or however many newspaper articles might be written about the death of our sport.
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