Off the Wall

As I write news is leaking out that an agreement on an independent Commission to run rugby league is now a certainty - and may be only days away.

The NSW majority on the ARL Board has clearly reached an agreement with News Limited that will pave the way for News, and the ARL, exiting ownership of the NRL, with the game to be run by an eight person independent commission.

The ARL will soon release a statement setting out the agreement, according to News Limited media - and given that the key negotiations have been between the ARL and News executives, we can take it that the story is accurate.

The devil may be in the detail, and there is always the threat of a breakaway movement, but the momentum for an independent commission and a new direction for the overall management of the game is such that the process should be a relatively harmonious one.

The game does not need and cannot afford more divisions. It is up against a well resourced challenger - the AFL - which is run by an independent commission and is about to negotiate a new television rights agreement that will almost certainly give it even more resources than it already has.

But rugby league is in excellent shape in so many respects. It is not without its challenges and problems...but crowds during the weather disrupted trials have been excellent, and the media lead up in the last two weeks has been overwhelmingly positive.

What we need is a competent, independent commission that can pave the way for the NRL to negotiate the best possible television agreement in 2011.

We need an agreement that delivers at least $300 million or more across five years . And getting that almost certainly means the free to air rights will have to be shared between two or more networks.

We also need a streamlined administrative structure that ensures the maximum amount is spent on junior development, maintaining a strong game in the bush, and maintaining the viability of the 16 NRL premiership clubs.

And we also need an independent commission that can deliver a united, responsible response by the game to challenges such as possible bans on alcohol and junk food advertising, further controls over poker machines, and even limits on sports betting agencies.

Inevitably, it will take some time to put a new commission, and the administration that will support it, in place.

But we need it at the earliest possible opportunity! The pending announcement from the ARL is just the start - but a welcome, it long overdue start at that!