Off the Wall

It would seem that the establishment of the Independent Commission (IC) is moving closer to finality - we are lucky it is not a matter of "life and death" for the game otherwise the game would now have the headstone in place!

In recent days some of the games more respected former players have raised a couple of issues the game - and I mean the "game" in the widest sense of the word - should openly debate before the IC finally takes control of the NRL/ARL and related entities.

And this debate most certainly must be held before the IC begins negotiations on the post-2012 television rights agreement.

The question of stand-alone state of origin weekends simply must be seriously and widely discussed and not remain, as it essentially is today, the province of Channel Nine who insist on Wednesday night matches.

The views of players, coaches, club officials, and fans should be widely canvassed.

At the very least the games stakeholders should be considering alone weekends which would involve major tourism and event promotions for which the state governments and tourism bodies should be encouraged to provide funding and support. If it is good enough for the federal government to drop, and waste, a lazy $45 million into getting one vote for a soccer world cup bid, rugby league should be able to get a small handout to maximise the economic and other benefits of three great events.

The wear and tear on players who are called upon to play origin and club football just gets worse by the year. In years gone by the Broncos were the main casualty, today it is the Dragons. Who will it be in future years?

I know there are factors which mitigate against separate origin weekends, and these include the argument that if it is not broken why try and fix it. And it might require an extension of the season.

But surely this is an issue of concern to the game's stakeholders, including fans, and one that ought to be widely discussed now before decisions that effectively determine its future are make as part of television negotiations? Are we getting maximum value from a series that is the envy of other codes?

The second issue is whether or not there are enough players available to make any expansion in the number of NRL premiership teams viable?

One of the game's immortal's Bob Fulton has been despairing in recent weeks at the poor standard of a worrying number of NRL first grade fixtures. He has been joined in the Courier Mail today by Gorden Tallis.

We have had some standout games, but we sure have had some really average games as well.

The NRL has gone very quiet on expansion. The longer the establishment of the IC drags on, the less likely it is that short term expansion is on the agenda.

The most active proponents of expansion are to be found in South East Queensland and Central Queensland, on the NSW Central Coast, and in Perth.

Ideally, we should be able to accommodate two more teams - but that would almost certainly extend the season (and probably rule out stand alone origin weekends).

But the question which Bob Fulton, distinguished servant of the game that he is, asks is whether there are enough first grade players to ensure the premiership would remain strong with the addition of two teams?

Again, this issue ought to be widely debated before the IC is in place - and certainly before expansion is considered.

There is no harm is canvassing the opinion of the game's stakeholders - and given the apparently "imminent" establishment of the IC, there is no time like the present!