Off the Wall

The elimination round of the 2011 finals did not change much in terms of the outlook for the 2011 premiership.

We still have fortunately, the most open contest for the premiership in recent memory.

And what a contrast that is to the position in the AFL after its opening finals round!

According to the betting markets, the AFL premiership race is what it has been for weeks if not months - a contest that just two teams are given any realistic hope of winning. Collingwood are $1.85 for the flag and Geelong $2.75. The West Coast is next on $15!

What a contrast with the NRL! We will have five serious contenders - with the Storm, Sea Eagles, Broncos and Tigers under $6 and the Dragons at $6.50.

The NRL needs to look at ways to maximise the benefits an open premiership race offers.

As an example, for matches where the crowd pulling power is not the best, more discounted family packages should be considered. The Tigers v Warriors should draw a good crowd, but it is being played on a Friday night. It needs a full house to do it justice at the SFS.

There won't be any problems at Suncorp Stadium when the Broncos and the Dragons meet on Saturday night.

This one will definitely be Darren Lockyer's final home game, and, for the third weekend in a row there will be a 50,000 plus sell out crowd. It is frankly extraordinary that one stadium can draw 50,000 league fans for three weekends in a row.

The magnificent response from Broncos and Warriors fans on Saturday, and from Tigers and Dragons fans at the Olympic Stadium last Friday night, tend to obscure two very, very disappointing roll ups for the Sea Eagles v Cowboys and the Storm v Knights matches.

As commentators at the games observed, the "official attendance" figures seemed to be rather "generous".
The release today of the free to air television viewing numbers will be interesting. Given the closeness of the premiership race anything short of near record numbers will be disappointing.

But we need to temper our enthusiasm somewhat. Cross the park from the Storm v Knights match yesterday close to 90,000 attended an AFL finals match at the MCG. And the "official" attendance at the league match? 14,000 or so!

The league match was shown live in Melbourne so we can expect the excuse that fans stayed home to watch the almost unique spectacle of an NRL match live.

We have a massively better finals series than the AFL. Now is the time for the NRL to make it even better by giving families, and junior teams, the best possible opportunity to watch the best finals series in recent memory.