Rugby League

License article

State of Origin scheduling: Six questions for six experts

Show comments

State of Origin is the pinnacle of the game and every match just keeps getting bigger, but each year the calls for changes to the scheduling grow louder.

With crowds and ratings down for NRL matches at this time of the season, some believe Origin is the biggest competitor to clubs for fans, sponsors and players - many of whom are often missing for their teams due to state commitments, injury or suspension.

But the three Origin matches also produce about 20 per cent of the NRL's total revenue and each is watched by more than 4 million viewers around Australia.

It is a healthy dilemna for the game and one that has caused much debate. So Fairfax Media has devised a special Set of Six by asking six questions of six key stakeholders represented by Channel Nine boss David Gyngell, South Sydney CEO Shane Richardson, Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter, Melbourne and NSW second-rower Ryan Hoffman, RLPA president Clint Newton and Parramatta Eels Supporters Club president James Phair.

1. How does State of Origin impact on the NRL competition?

David Gyngell: "It is swings and roundabouts.  Any time you can put a massive spotlight on a sport like State of Origin there has to be a lot of damage done to think you are not getting disproportionate benefits. In support of the NRL and the code we pick and choose to play games that we wouldn't naturally pick. Last weekend gave us an opportunity to play Canberra on a Friday night when we don't give them more than one or two games a year because two Sydney teams playing each other gives us the best audience in Sydney and any time the Broncos play it gives disproportionate value to Brisbane."

Shane Richardson: "From a club revenue point of view - dramatically. The West Tigers game cost us in excess of $130,000. Also our membership take-up should have been the highest, but was actually the lowest with a take-up of less than 40 per cent. When you have 85,000 people in the market paying a premium for a ticket [to Origin] then you will always struggle to get the family to spend more in that week in the same area. If you want people to attend live, then they want to see the best - simple."


Mick Potter: "It effectively takes your best players out if you have any selected and that is detrimental to the comp for those weeks. But to a small degree, it is also gives an opportunity for some young guys to get some experience."

Ryan Hoffman: "By taking out 34 of the game's best players you diminish the competion. But it does give some young players a chance to show their wares in first grade."

Clint Newton: "There is no doubt the State of Origin impacts on the NRL both in a positive and negative way, but the positive impact far outweighs any negative effect. Origin players benefit from exposure to different coaches and involvement with footballers from rival clubs and that can result in better club performances when they return. Origin also attracts huge exposure for the game of rugby league and generates substantial revenue that is tipped back into the game. Origin also gives an opportunity to less experienced players to play club first grade in place of unavailable Origin players and that helps fast track their game development. On the downside, some teams lose NRL  games they might well have won if they’d been at full strength and the risk of injury to players, additional player workload and the intensity of Origin all have an impact on club performances. NRL games played during the Origin period also attract lower television ratings and smaller crowds because the main focus is on the interstate competition.

James Phair: "It is a massive impact, but State of Origin is the showpiece of our game." 

2. Should clubs that lose players due to injury or suspension in State of Origin deserve to be compensated?

DG: "It's a real sticking point and I think maybe some sort of economics can play out for clubs who have a disproportionate amount of players [in Origin]. Coming from clubland myself, I am respectful of what that does to clubs. But at the same time, those clubs have bought those players knowing they are probably going to be picked in State of Origin so it is hard to whinge about it."

SR: "That is a difficult question, however, having salary cap assistance of a minor nature does little to alleviate the pain of long-term injury to key players. Compensation at the moment is really non-existent."

MP: "In some way, yes. The players are contracted to the club, but under the rules of the game they have to participate in these other games and you could possibly be effected."

RH: "These Origin games are getting so hard and tough that unfortunately players are getting injured and a lot of teams - Melbourne Storm are one of them - are having problems with their second tier cap due to having to bring in players they may not have otherwise done."

CN: "Clubs understand their duty to support representative football and to encourage their players to compete at the highest standard. But when a player suffers an injury in State of Origin, it can mean the difference between winning and losing matches or qualifying for the finals, or not, for their club. That has a direct impact on gate receipts, membership, sponsorship and exposure for sponsors, both at the ground and on TV. On that basis, a salary cap dispensation for an affected club if they needed to bring in another player is something that should be considered."

JP: "No."

3. Should State of Origin matches be played as stand-alone fixtures so players are not stood down from club duty before or forced to back up after?

DG: "I think there has to be consistency with viewership. Some people say the games aren't as good, but  a lot of people came home last Friday night and watched the [Raiders-Bulldogs] game so as long as the regular slots of Saturday night for Fox, Monday night for Fox, Sunday afternoon for NIne and Friday night for Nine are kept for hardcore fans who watch everything that moves, I am open to understanding anything. You couldn't play it at the end of the year when the whole season is over because you lose the drive, so the timing works. It is whether you put it on a stand-alone weekend on a Sunday night so you can get the most viewership, but that will probably still mean that the weekend before the players will be missing from the round because you can't prepare them well enough inside a week."

SR: "That is a no-brainer, yes."

MP: "Yes, I think that would be ideal."

RH: "I think they should be stand-alone not only for what that would do for the players' recovery, but that first game was the best game I have ever been a part of and a showcase of what our game can provide. So we should have been talking about that for a week instead of having to set it aside to focus on the Friday night games."

CN: "In a perfect world State of Origin players would be available for all their club’s games after having enough time to recover from playing Origin. Playing Origin as a stand-alone series seems to be the best way of achieving that. But there are other things to consider. If we lengthen the season, what affect does that have on the mandatory player end-of-season break. Fans who support club football would be without games during the Origin period. Broadcasters pay substantial rights fees for an agreed schedule and number of games, so the broadcasters would have to agree to no club matches during State of Origin, or some other form of competition involving non-Origin players. Alternatively, if the current Origin schedule is to remain, then clubs would be no worse off if true split rounds were introduced on either side of State of Origin: after Origin, the player would either be in a team with a bye or mandatorily stood down and would consequently only miss one NRL match that week (the weekend before or the weekend after Origin) and would have a minimum of nine days to recover for his next game."

JP: "Stand-alone fixtures are an option, played every two weeks over six weeks. Make it truly a special event by including NYC, under-18s and female Origin matches."

4. Should State of Origin matches be played back-to-back over consecutive weeks?

DG: "You can't underestimate time frames for build-up. If it is all over too quickly, people don't get a chance to talk about it. Having big breaks of two or three weeks does build up hype and interest and marketing and those things in State of Origin. If you play over three consecutive weeks, everything is all over pretty quickly, not to mention the physicality of the games themselves."

SR: "That needs more research. The Origin scheduling cannot be considered on its own but in conjunction with the NRL scheduling, as well as international fixtures .There should be less NRL games - a maximum of 22 - as quantity isn't the key but quality for broadcasters and the fans. We need to map out a plan that highlights all of our product in the best light by maximising the appearances of the star players in an environment that allows recovery . There is no coincidence that the quality of Origin I was far superior to Origin II. Players' fatigue factor plays such a significant role in high performance."

MP: "I don't know. To have a little mini-tournament in the middle of the season would seem disruptive, but I suppose it gets it out of the way."

RH: "That would be my view, I reckon if you had three weeks of just having those Origin games then rugby league supporters would get behind being able to just focus on Origin."    

CN: "Players’ views on the merits of this proposal are not unanimous.  However, in 2013, when the NRL suggested that the Origin period be contracted in 2014, there was a significant group of Origin players who were strongly opposed to that because of the physical and psychological toll and the impact it would have on recovery times.  Those concerns remain. We understand the current schedule also maximises media exposure, merchandise sales and sponsorship."

JP: "I would like to see it go to every two weeks. Three weeks is too long and consecutive weeks is too much demand on the players."

5. Should there be a third Origin match if the series is already decided?

DG: "Yes, you need consistency."

SR:  "Yes, otherwise it is Mickey Mouse stuff."

MP: "In a tennis game, once you've won three of the five sets you don't keep playing. But it is a little bit of a pride thing to try and get one back and not make it a clean sweep, so I still think there is some merit."

RH: "I don't think it matters whether the series is at stake or not. The players are playing for the pride of their state so you know you are going to get a good game and Queensland may use it as an opportunity to blood some players. I know Cameron Smith made his debut in a dead rubber."

CN: "From a player point of view there is still huge interest. The losing team has pride to play for and the winning team has the opportunity to claim clean-sweep bragging rights. But that’s not the only reason.  Advance tickets sales, travel and accommodation arrangements, entertainment, sponsorship and other associated activities have to be taken into account as well as the three-game broadcast deal."

JP: "Whilst I love Origin, I would like to see the third match cancelled if the series is already decided. The risk of a team losing star players to injury or suspension is too great, especially with the run into finals, for a dead rubber. However, the scheduling is the major problem - especially around the byes."

6. With State of Origin estimated to be worth 20 per cent of the game's value, should the series be expanded to five games?

DG: "No, that makes it less special."

SR: "No, for all the reasons I have outlined previously. Improve the quality of the content, don't increase it."

MP: "I think it is a great concept the way it is, and where would you stop. It could end up like baseball or the America's Cup. I think that would dilute it." 

RH: "I think three games is great and the workload of players at the moment is probably stretched to the limit. If we start putting more games in it might take the shine off Origin a bit."

CN: "That’s not something we’ve discussed with the players, but we’d question the impact that would have on player welfare because of the speed and intensity of Origin football. It would presumably also mean an extension of what is already a long year, especially for representative players, and we don't want to create a situation where players suffer burnout and are not able to perform at their best for their clubs at finals time."

JP: "Three is enough. The current impact on the competition between rounds 11 and 19 is too much now. Playing five games with the current scheduling would have an impact on close to 15 rounds of the competition."