NRL Riding waves crest

Sellout crowds, increased revenue, the closest season in decades. The news just keeps getting better for the NRL.

NRL chief executive David Gallop released figures which proved there was unprecedented interest in the game, with crowd numbers hitting record levels for the third straight year.

With one round remaining, the NRL has already had 2,851,654 people attend its matches this year at an average of 16,484 per game, an increase of 12 per cent on last season.

Joint venture outfits Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra have broken ground records at each of their venues, with the Tigers setting new marks at Campbelltown, Leichhardt and Telstra Stadium.

Total sponsorship revenue is also 39 per cent up on last year's figures, while merchandise royalties are 41 per cent better off than in 2004.

"It's a season that I think the game deserved," Gallop said.

"It's a season where we've exceeded expectations. It's about record crowds, it's about record commercial growth in the game.

"The game's key indicators are healthier than ever.

"We now have situations where the equivalent of 10 per cent of the population in Townsville is turning up to every (North Queensland) Cowboys home game and they're wearing more club merchandise than ever before."

Much of the reason for the increased interest in the NRL can no doubt be attributed to the competitiveness of the league, which Gallop said was a by-product of the salary cap.

Rugby league historian David Middleton has declared the competition the closest ever, with three clubs vying for the minor premiership, three for a top eight spot, and three looking to escape the wooden spoon.

While ecstatic with the increased interest in the game, Gallop sent a word of warning over the impact of the NSW state government's poker machines tax.

Gallop said clubs were already feeling the pinch, and forecast even more pain with the proposed increases to the tax.

"The impact is there now," Gallops said.

"We've talked to clubs not only in terms of the top level of the game, but grassroots rugby league is already starting to see funding being cut.

"Last week with the club CEOs we talked a lot about the commercial growth in the game but we also reminded everyone not to get too carried away.

"The increases (in the tax) that are currently legislated for, it will have a huge impact not only at NRL level but at grassroots rugby league."