Off the Wall

At long last we are seeing some real benefit from the club membership drives which the NRL has actively promoted in the last couple of seasons.

The total number - 122,000 - pales when compared with the AFL, which has long been principally a membership based code...but the increases in some clubs are really impressive.

A year ago there were 80,000 club members across the sixteen NRL clubs.

In percentage terms, the biggest growth has occurred in the Roosters - up 167 per cent in a year. Off a small base (2447) admittedly, but when you lift it to 6553 in a year it is good news. The Sea Eagles are up 154 per cent.

The next biggest lift is at the Rabbitohs - up 90 per cent to a very impressive 16,900...making the Rabbitohs the biggest club in membership terms in the NRL.

The Titans have responded superbly from the multimillion dollar challenge from the AFL by lifting membership by more than 50 per cent.

The premiers, the Dragons, are up 59 per cent, and the Storm up by 98 per cent...but the total number (2806) shows just how great the challenge is in Melbourne.

The really disappointing number is that of the Cowboys - with a membership total of 6648, down over 10 per cent on last year. These numbers precede the cyclone period, which really damaged many of the Cowboys main support communities.

One fears that this year will be a tough one for the Cowboys.

The Broncos recorded the smallest percentage increase - 10 per cent - to 12,000...and that is a worry given the Brisbane Lions has 15,000 members. And even the Reds Union Team have almost 11,000!

But the good news, in my view, is the growth in Sydney. It has lagged for years, so the significant lift in clubs like the Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs and Roosters is welcome. Even the Sharks are up 71 per cent!

A healthy rise in membership does not automatically translate into people through the turnstiles...but the more signed up members the NRL clubs have the better it is for the game and its future.

With the "unofficial" start to the 2011 season this weekend, the growth in club membership is a good news story at the right time...