The Preliminary Problem

BY BOZZA

Bruce Springsteen, Madonna / Way before Nirvana there was U2 / And Blondie and music still on MTV / Her two kids in high school / They tell her that she’s uncool / Cause she’s still preoccupied
With 1985.

I found myself humming Bowling for Soup’s long forgotten opus to middle aged regret this week, prompted involuntarily by the NRL and its ‘stuck in a time-warp’ decision making. NRL CEO Todd Greenberg confirming this week that, if Canberra successfully progress past Cronulla to a ‘home’ Grand Final Qualifier, that match will be played in Sydney.

My very limited research into the matter has found that NRL rules allow for Grand Final Qualifiers to be, and have been, played in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Townsville is also approved as a Grand Final Qualifier venue if the Cowboys earn the right to host one. Did the NRL forget they had team in Canberra when making the amendments allowing these matches to be played outside of Sydney. While not a present danger are they also unaware that they have teams in New Zealand and the Gold Coast?

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Alright, Gold Coast won’t exactly be disadvantaged by playing an hour up the road at Suncorp. The Warriors however, would rightly argue that it is a little much to expect a team to find their passports before they make their way to a ‘home’ Grand Final Qualifier.

The NRL reasoning like most politispeak appears reasonable when read in isolation: “The rules are aimed at ensuring everyone who wants to attend preliminary finals matches can do so. That means staging matches in venues which can accommodate large crowds,” an NRL spokesperson explained “clearly our preliminary finals are two of our marquee events for the season and there is a desire to ensure as many supporters as possible are able to watch them.”

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Todd is happy enough with the situation

The only problem is that under any level of scrutiny or analysis, the NRL’s ‘crowd first’ reasoning falls over. For example, if North Queensland hosts Canberra the best location to cater for the biggest crowd is Townsville but if Canberra was to host the same match the similarly sized Canberra Stadium isn’t big enough?

Raiders CEO Don Furner was diplomatic when asked about the situation: “Is it disappointing that we’re not playing the preliminary final [in Canberra]? Yes, it would be a fantastic home-ground advantage for us, but we have travelled well on the road and in the glory days travelling up to Sydney to beat the teams up in Sydney was something special.” Furner said, “Without looking at the negatives, some of the positives are that we have a pretty big advantage over the Sydney clubs in that respect … [they] all play at neutral venues come the semi-finals whereas we don’t.”

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The Raiders’ guarded response might owe more to the fact that they have to worry more about Cronulla this weekend rather than the venue of a Grand Final Qualifier they are yet to reach. That said the NRL’s intransigence on the matter has to stop. If not from this season, from 2017 any Grand Final qualifier should be played in the city of the team hosting it.

I am more than happy for Todd Greenberg to fill his I-Pod with Springsteen, Madonna and Blondie rather than more modern artists. When it comes to Finals Scheduling 1985, when all Finals were played in Sydney, is not the era to be looking too when making your decisions.

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