Off the Wall

The television channels might not like it, but the case for a return to Saturday afternoon football in the NRL premiership is surely strong enough for the NRL to have a serious look at it.

The ANZAC Day match between the Dragons and the Roosters at the Football Stadium drew close to 30,000 spectators. It was the best attendance at a match between the two teams in years.

And I thought it was a great spectacle on television.

But there is one more telling reason why the NRL needs to re-visit the issue of a regular Saturday afternoon premiership match.

When we gave up on Saturday afternoon football we effectively gave the AFL are free run at the Saturday afternoon market. And the AFL has used it skilfully.

While the AFL has followed the lead of our code and increased the number of night matches (and is even considering a Thursday night fixture when the competition is expanded) it has steadfastly refused to reduce the importance of Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon football on free to air television.

And ABC radio in Queensland and New South Wales broadcasts the AFL match of the day on Saturday - except when there is an NRL fixture as there was last Saturday.

The competition between the NRL and the AFL for the spectator dollar, and the sponsorship dollars, in Sydney and South East Queensland is going to intensify when the AFL adds Western Sydney and Gold Coast teams to its premiership.

We simply cannot afford the luxury of giving up any opportunity to maximise the coverage of our game, and address the competition the AFL presents.

The AFL is taking a huge and expensive risk in expanding its competition into two areas where rugby league remains very strong. It can be expected to put serious money into attracting fans and sponsors when it does so in 2011.

As I have written recently, when it comes to television ratings in Sydney and Brisbane rugby league trounces its rivals. But we should take nothing for granted.

An increasing number of players have come out in favour of more afternoon football.

But there is another important factor that needs to be taken into account. We need to attract more family groups to NRL matches - and there can be no doubt that Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon matches are more