The NRL's attempt to turn the release of the draw for the final six rounds into an event ended in embarrassment after the announcement was deferred due to a wrangle between the game's broadcasters over matches involving Wests Tigers and Manly.
Despite the official Twitter accounts of the NRL and clubs promoting the unveiling of the remaining schedule of matches at 11am, the draw still had not been finalised on Thursday night. The reason for the delay centres around the Tigers and Sea Eagles being given just four-day turnarounds between their round 23 and 24 matches; NRL policy states that all teams must have a minimum five-day break after each game.
A draft copy of the draw sent to clubs had Manly scheduled to play Gold Coast on Sunday, August 17, and Parramatta on Thursday, August 21. Wests Tigers were drawn to play Sydney Roosters on Monday, August 18, and Canterbury on Friday, August 22. After being made aware of the issue by Tigers and Sea Eagles officials, the NRL advised clubs at about 10.45am that the release of the draw would be delayed and it was eventually deferred until Friday.
An NRL spokesman said the announcement had been delayed to ensure a five-day turnaround between games to protect players in the game.
''The schedule for the final six rounds of the Telstra Premiership has been finalised and will be released tomorrow,'' a statement said on Thursday night. ''This has now been satisfied and the schedule for rounds 21 to 26 will be released tomorrow.''
At the heart of the problem is the way the broadcasters choose the matches, Channel Nine getting the first, second and fourth picks and Fox Sports having the third, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. Under the previous television agreement, the NRL would devise a draw based on the requests of clubs but leave just the kick-off times to be determined by the broadcasters. The current $1 billion deal gives Nine and Fox Sports almost total say.
Nine initially wanted the round-23 match between Parramatta and Canterbury at ANZ Stadium to be played on Thursday, August 14, but Eels officials complained that their team would have only three days to prepare as they were playing in Darwin the previous Saturday and then hosting an NRL fan day before returning to Sydney.
As a result, the Eels-Bulldogs match will now be played on Friday, August 15, after Nine agreed to swap it with the South Sydney-Brisbane game.
However, Fox Sports then chose the Tigers-Roosters game, which is also scheduled to be played at ANZ Stadium but cannot be played there on Saturday, August 16, due to the Bledisloe Cup rugby union Test between Australia and New Zealand. As a result, Fox Sports opted for the Tigers-Roosters game to be played on the Monday night, which caused a knock-on effect for the following weekend's matches as Nine had chosen Tigers-Bulldogs as their Friday night match.
Fairfax Media understands the Gold Coast-Manly match had initially been scheduled for Saturday, August 16, but was chosen as Nine's Sunday game after Fox Sports used their third pick to claim the Tigers-Roosters clash.
It is believed Tigers officials won't announce a venue for the match against the Roosters after Fox Sports decided to schedule it on the Saturday and they will seek compensation after forgoing the financial incentives for playing at ANZ Stadium. The Tigers have an agreement to play four games a year at Campbelltown and Leichhardt.
''First and foremost the four-day turnaround is just not fair and reasonable so I have no doubt it is causing some grief but then you add the complexity of venue availability and other sporting schedules, and I am sure they are facing some very difficult decisions,'' Wests Tigers chief executive Grant Mayer said. ''From our point of view, we are more than happy to be advised by the game about what needs to be done as long as the club and our stakeholders are not disadvantaged.''
Twitter - @BradWalterSMH