IN THE same season the NRL recorded the highest total regular season attendance in its history, the competition faces a potentially embarrassing crowd for the semi-final between Manly and North Queensland this Friday night.
The NRL is only hoping for a crowd of more than 15,000, knowing that Manly face an out-of-town team while Sea Eagles supporters traditionally fail to travel in big numbers.
While more than 40,000 will be expected at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night for the second semi-final between South Sydney and Canberra, the NRL knows it faces a massive task even to muster half that for the first semi-final.
Manly and North Queensland played in week one of the finals last season, and with the Sea Eagles players and officials complaining publicly about the match not being at Brookvale Oval, the match drew a crowd of just 13,972.
As it did last year, the NRL will put on free buses from Manly Leagues Club to the stadium in a bid to lift numbers, but officials will refuse to discount ticket prices for the match as it would be unfair on the supporters of the Rabbitohs and Raiders.
Manly general manager David Perry said the club ''will be working hard all week to get a strong message through all our networks encouraging support at the actual game, in conjunction with the NRL's support''.
Officials said they did not consider switching the match to Brookvale Oval because it would reward the Sea Eagles for not being able to generate a big crowd elsewhere.