ARL Commission chair Peter Beattie says the strong stance taken by the game's governing body on off-field behaviour played a major part in the NRL season opener smashing TV ratings records.
Thursday night's season opener between the Storm and Broncos was watched by more people than any regular season game in 2018.
Between Channel Nine and Fox Sports, 1.18 million people watched Melbourne's 22-12 win.
The huge figure eclipsed last year's regular season record of 1.12 million people by just over five per cent - also registered in the season opener between the Broncos and Dragons - and defied a predicted dip in ratings after a disastrous off-season.
"It shows that rugby league is a popular game but most importantly, we took a tough stand and the people have responded," Beattie told the Herald.
"It clearly demonstrated that justice has been done and - while I was criticised for this - we were seen doing it.
"We were seen to be cleaning up the game, we were seen to be taking a stand and saying enough is enough and this is the response to that."
Beattie was on hand at AAMI Park on Thursday night, a guest of Storm chairman Bart Campbell and CEO Dave Donaghy.
He spent the night speaking to key sponsors and stakeholders, all of whom backed the decision made by the ARLC in establishing a no-fault stand down policy for players charged with criminal offences carrying a maximum jail sentence of 11 years or more.
Given the approval in the room for the new rule on Thursday night, Beattie was not surprised to hear the biggest spike in viewership came from Melbourne, rather than Sydney or Brisbane.
"That just shows the footprint of rugby league is expanding," Beattie said.
"Speaking to sponsors, investors, all of the key stakeholders in the game, they all recognise the strong off-field leadership and I have to commend Dave and Bart for that.
"They are doing a wonderful job and people are recognising the game is moving in a positive direction down there."
Off-field leadership aside, Beattie also recognised the need for quality football to feed fans desperate for some rugby league after what felt like the longest summer in some time.
"You need two things for big ratings like this to come together," he said. "You need good football and good off-field management.
"It's only one game but as long as we have both of those, the game can keep growing."
Almost 850,000 people watched the match on Nine, with just under 334,000 tuning into the Fox Sports coverage.
The rating also allayed fears sparked by poor viewership last month for the All Stars match, which dipped 23 per cent when compared to when the match was last played two years ago.