Christmas may be just a few days away but there is another countdown of sorts for NRL fans around the world that might feel just as important... because they are counting down the days until the Rugby League Season returns.
So what does everyone want for Christmas in the NRL sense?
And no we can't alter time, speed up the harvest or teleport you to the start of the 2011 season.
But we can try to advise the NRL about what we want them to do to try and improve the Greatest Game of All.
Here's the Top Five Things I want from the NRL in 2011... Christmas Edition.
5. Fix the NRL Jokediciary.
No that's not a typo.
The NRL's 'Judiciary' is about as reliable as Wally Lewis injury update.
Wait that's not fair... Wally at least gets it right some of the time.
Since the old school format was thrown out (when three former players got together and passed their own judgement on a referred case) the NRL's discipline committee - yes the Jokediciary - continues to show stunning inconsistency when the player in question's worth comes into play.
Anyone who honestly believes that the value of a player to their club, state or country doesn't factor into the sentence handed down is on the good stuff - that is if the case even gets to the Jokediciary in the first place - the amount of referable cases each weekend that don't get passed on is appalling.
Think about it - how many times does a player with a track record of high shots get a very low grading for a tackle that a no-name player can find themselves on the receiving end of a massive charge?
Go back to appointing three former players and let us live and die by their judgement - not by what the Points System Sheet spits out.
And I haven't even got started on the role of QC's in defending players... if you get referred then let the committee decide your fate, not some legal mumbo jumbo.
4. Get Greg Inglis on a plane for America for an NFL try-out.
IF he can't secure a deal with South Sydney then Greg Inglis and his legion of advisors must seriously consider a real challenge.
That challenge is the National Football League.
Inglis is just 23 years old and has all the physical tools to make a foray into Gridiron.
That doesn't mean he'd actually be able to play it successfully but why not have a crack?
As I mentioned on a guest spot on 101.5FM's Sports Fever Breakfast Show on December 23 switching to AFL or Rugby Union wouldn't be easy but it would be a safer option for Inlgis if Rugby League can't accommodate him. But imagine if Inglis backed himself and went for a try-out in the United States or Canada (with the CFL).
The more I think about it the more it makes sense. Inglis could attempt to play any number of positions and if he can't control his weight - no problem, because the NFL invented positions for big men!
I sincerely hope he stays in Rugby League and that South Sydney get him because with Russell Crowe owning that club - marketing Greg Inglis to the world will be a breeze.
But Greg Inglis in the NFL - with Russell Crowe's support... now that would be something.
3. Fix the NRL Draw & introduce a flex game NFL style.
I wrote about this the other day when the NRL announced the scheduling for the First Five Rounds of 2011 (see link) and lamented the influence that Channel Nine & Fox Sports had on when and where the games were played during the season.
There are a couple of big advantages that a Fixed Draw offers not least the fact that practically ALL major sports in the world operate under one.
Yes it is not just the AFL who operate that format - the NFL is a classic example of a locked in yet slightly flexible system that has merit written all over it.
In the NFL they lock in their schedule nice and early and it takes into consideration the record of each team the previous season before being processed.
Now in the NFL not every team can play each other as the number of teams is more than the number of weeks in a season but the draw is balanced to reflect performance and inter-divisional play. All games are set out pre-season with the prime Monday Night Football spots allocated then. But the NFL allows one game per week to be moved from a Sunday Afternoon to a Sunday Evening depending on the way the season has unfolded. They lock in a certain number of weeks for Sunday Night Football from the start of the season (which rates beautifully) and then as the season's second half gets moving they allocate the most interesting match-ups to that timeslot.
Now the NRL has a different playing cycle than the NFL but the Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday set-up is a dream to pre-schedule.
For one the prime Friday Night 8pm kick-off slot offers up 26 spots every season. There are 16 NRL Teams and every single team should get at least one Home Friday Night Football game for that time slot. Just giving teams a Friday Night game is not enough - Channel Nine must show that game as their first match if only for the sponsors who deserve the prime time exposure for pumping money into Rugby League. That leaves ten other prime Friday Night spots to hand out PLUS a significant number of other Friday Night slots for the 9:50pm replay. So there's still plenty of Friday Night love to hand out but the NRL must give every NRL team at least one quality home game in prime time.
There is a case for Saturday Afternoon football in terms of attracting walk up fans but the 5:30pm Fox Sports game is considered by the NRL 'afternoon enough' as it is. There is however a case to move the third Saturday game from 7:30pm to Sunday Night 6pm once the representative season winds up.
Yes there is some inconvenience to moving games mid-season but if everyone knows that this is how the scheduling will work prior to the season beginning - you can adjust.
To spell it out:
If Parramatta were scheduled to play South Sydney in Round 23 on a Saturday Night that game could be switched come say Round 18 if both teams are neck and neck in a playoff battle - making it an ideal game to switch to the Sunday Night 6pm timeslot. Fans will still have a number of weeks to adjust if it was an interstate game but it certainly adds so much value to the so called 'Glory Bound' rounds at the end of the season.
A Fixed Schedule just makes sense... but the Sunday Night Flex game is a real wildcard.
This is not a new idea. In fact outside of Australia in professional sport - the salaries of players throughout the world is common knowledge. So much so that websites in the US survive by publishing this information alone!
Maybe the drop off in the amount being earned is the reason behind the 'privacy' argument but if you were earning $25 million per season v $425,000 per season - I think I'd prefer to have the former hidden from the public domain.
Yet in the interests of fairness when it comes to policing salary caps around the world - these figures are published because it offers transparency and most importantly puts the onus on the club, player and manager involved to make sure their submitted contract is as it should be.
In light of the Melbourne Storm Salary Cap breaches in 2010, the NRL has reached a point where clearly they cannot keep track of what each club is doing outside of what they tell the NRL they are paying their players. That's not to say they aren't trying their best but the biggest question coming out of the Storm being busted was not 'how can this happen' but rather 'who else is busting the cap?'
And it also means that the NRL's investigative team keep their jobs but they might just get support rather than criticism from the Rugby League world.
How is that a bad thing?
At the moment every contract lodged with the NRL is up for speculation over how much a player is worth v how much he is being paid. The Greg Inglis case shows how a push by some sections of the media can get a deal scrutinised when he no longer is going to a club owned by that media organisation. How is that good for the game?
Even more disturbing is the well below 'market value' we hear top shelf players like Mark Gasnier and Darren Lockyer are listed on the Salary Cap, yet we're also led to believe that Canberra paid in excess of $300,000+ for Brett White... yes Brett White.
What we're asking for is not every little thing that a player earns to be made public - but what they are being paid by their club under the Salary Cap - that should be clear as day, otherwise how can we honestly be expected to believe that the Cap is actually doing what it is supposed to?
A Public Salary Cap just makes way too much sense not to implement - so get to it NRL and help us trust you by helping yourselves trust those within your game.
Well I've heard worse ones... like Greg Inglis to the Kansas City Chiefs for example.
But in all seriousness if the game is to be run properly then ideas need to be constructed and executed - simply standing pat and 'watching over' the current set-up offers nothing more than a case of 'same master with a different looking head'.
While change for change's sake is not something I believe in - I do believe that the NRL has to take a fresh look at how the game works, target the areas where it can improve and DO SOMETHING about it.
The Queensland Rugby League published this FAQ on their website that attempts to explain the make-up of the Independent Commission and it is worth a look if you want to get some understanding of what the IC is supposed to be.
Here is another excerpt from the SMH dated December 15, 2010 outlining the ideals of the Independent Commission from NSWRL & ARL Chairman John Chalk's perspective.
[ John Chalk, who was recently elected chairman of the NSWRL and ARL, replacing Colin Love, described yesterday's decision, which came after a meeting that lasted almost six hours between representatives of the NSWRL, the Queensland Rugby League, News, NRL clubs, and various lawyers, as momentous.
‘It's great for the game,' Chalk said. 'It brings us into a new era of administration for rugby league, and there are interesting and exciting times ahead. We're in competition with a variety of sports but most notably the other football codes, and this brings rugby league into line with modern administration of sport. There will be no excuse for not being competitive with the AFL or any other sport. The expectation is that it's going to open doors for the game. The streamlining of the administration will make it easier for the people in charge to make the big decisions, without the commission members getting bogged down in bureaucracy. We will be putting people on the commission who are not afraid to make the big decisions, and the game will become more attractive to potential investors as a result.’'The game has been successful in the past but the way sport is now, its administration has to work in a different way, and in 2011 rugby league will be stepping up to that mark.' ]
Giving people who follow the game a voice wouldn't be the worst concept if you're planning on moving into a 'new era of administration for Rugby League' - especially if you are doing this with every stakeholder in mind.
Or am I way off?
So what would make your Top 10?
Would love to hear your ideas via the comments below.
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And from everyone associated with wdnicolson.blogspot.com, The NRL Tweet and NOT The Footy Show have a GREAT Christmas.
Here's our gift to you... an 2011 NRL Season Countdown.