Off the Wall

There was some good, and not so good, news to come out of the opening Origin encounter last night.
On the good side, this series is now a contest, dispelling the nonsense by one journalist last week that the Blues team was the "worst ever".

That means the second game in Sydney will be a sell out.

We saw a tight contest, spoiled to an extent by one factor I will comment on below. And we saw enough of Ricky Stuart's Blues to know that there will be no complacency in the second game.

The second positive is the record television ratings - or at least the highest ever since the new ratings system was introduced a decade ago. The total audience was more than 3.5 million...not bad given that it was not shown live in WA.

A massive 820,000 viewers in Brisbane gave Origin an almost unprecedented 54 per cent market share. In Sydney there was over one million viewers, and the regional viewing audience was up 8 per cent to reach 1.3 million.

The Sydney figure was the highest since 1998.

That is very good news for the NRL as the current rights agreement enters its final season and a half.

But there were a couple of negatives.

If you were among the record viewing audience in Brisbane you may well feel short changed - with the all-NSW match commentary team causing the open line radio programmes to just about go into melt down today. While you only have one free to air broadcaster that will continue to happen!

What worried me a lot more was the standard of refereeing - appalling, and not up to what is expected for the code's showcase game. The Blues got an appalling call (assumedly from a "sideline official") on a forward pass, and neither side, or the game was advantaged by a slack approach to slow play the ball movements and a poor ten metres.

The standard of refereeing looked to be on the improve at the start of the season, but it has been on the slide in recent weeks. Last night was well below what we should expect, especially from the game's best referee, Tony Archer.

There was another problem, the extent of which even I had not realised fully until last night.

You would have to assume the game, starting at just after 8.00 would be classed as "family viewing".
We are used to the beer and spirits ads, mainly from the sponsors of both teams.

But, boy oh boy, the level of direct advertising, and promotion, of sports betting, both online and telephone, was surely a worry.

If rugby league was addicted to the fags in the 1970's, and grog in the 1990's, then it surely is becoming addicted to sports betting in the current era.

Just what impact that has on teenage viewers is something the game's administrators need to look hard and long at.

And we have to hope that the NRL takes it all more seriously than the AFL CEO did in his National Press Club address yesterday.

One cross to a sports betting agency spruiker proudly told viewers that there were no less than FIFTY THREE betting options available on the game.

Finally, the "King", Wally Lewis, is confirming he was not just a good football player, and the stand out Origin player. He is not bad when it comes to tipping winning margins as well.

Last night Wally predicted it would be a much tighter game than most pundits were expecting - and that the Maroons would win by FOUR!

Not the greatest Origin game ever - but certainly enough to ensure the series, and Origin football, remain very much alive.