Off the Wall

map The NRL is entitled to crow about the record crowds for the premiership rounds - 3,151,000 - but there are serious problem areas remaining  which need to be addressed by the league, and the clubs, in the off season.

The 18,274 attendance at Kogarah Jubilee Oval last night opens up another question the NRL will have to address - should Sunday night football be on the agenda when the television rights are negotiated?

The weekend crowds also highlight the extraordinary following the game has in South East Queensland - and surely raises the question why Brisbane should not have a second team?

The Broncos v Raiders game on Friday night drew 38,000 fans - continuing the massive lift in crowd numbers the Broncos have drawn since the club's season turned around in June. The figure is made even more impressive by the fact that the Raiders are not a great drawcard in Brisbane.

The Titans, after some disappointing crowd numbers, really came home with a wet sail drawing 27,000 for their final match also on Friday night.

If a total crow of 65,000 at two games in the one region on the one night does not add to the case for a third South East Queensland team then nothing will!

The real story from the crowd numbers for the 2010 premiership rounds is the absolute resurgence of suburban grounds.

Attendances at matches at ANZ Stadium continue to be disappointing. The SFS has also produced mixed results this season.

But the standouts - apart from Brisbane, Gold Coast and Newcastle stadiums - have been the Dragons Jubilee Oval and the Tigers Leichhardt Oval. CUA Stadium, the Panthers home ground, has also seen good attendances.

Even the Warriors have recorded a very healthy lift in crowd numbers. The jury is out of how beneficial the Storm's new home ground will be - we need to wait until the team is actually playing for premiership points, and not selling one dollar admission fees as they did for the final home game yesterday.

The problem area clubs when it comes to home attendances - the Roosters, the Raiders, the Sharks and the Rabbitohs - remain.

This season they have been joined by the "real" winners of the wooden spoon - the North Queensland Cowboys. The appalling on field performance of the Cowboys (and to his credit Johnathan Thurston is quoted today as saying the team deserves the wooden spoon) have dragged crowd numbers down alarmingly.

That is a worry for the game as the Cowboys have been drawing excellent home crowds since the team joined the competition.

The only way the Sharks are going to turn around their poor home attendance numbers is to start winning consistently.

The Roosters and the Rabbitohs have demographic challenges that are not easily overcome. The Raiders might lift their crowds in 2011 given their outstanding finish to the 2010 season.

What concerns me is that the NRL will rest on its laurels given a new crowd peak has been achieved.

It must not do so. Getting fans to the football is a continuing and growing challenge.

The NRL needs to consider Sunday night football - and whether it is preferable to Monday night. The AFL has been playing Sunday twilight/early evening games with considerable success.

There is also a need to consider whether the game would not benefit from regular Saturday afternoon games at suburban grounds. Channel Nine or Fox would need to agree - but the issue of one Saturday afternoon game needs to be considered when the next television rights is negotiated.

The AFL has it all to itself when it comes to Saturday afternoon football - given the new challenge we face in Western Sydney and on the Gold Coast it is questionable whether we can allow that to continue.

The crowd numbers released by the NRL last night are encouraging, and the NRL is entitled to be happy with them - but problem areas remain. And they need to be addressed!