I am a rugby league fan: but only just after the 2013 draw announcement

If you did not know this already, let me be clear: I am a Canberra Raiders fan and I always will be a Canberra Raiders fan. I am also a Queenslander and nothing gives me more joy than watching Queensland defeat those who reside from below the Tweed. I am not, however, a fan of the NRL and have not been for many years.

I was lost to rugby league during the Super League wars and went from watching just about every game on free to air TV at the time to only watching my beloved Raiders and the State of Origin games. Rugby League test matches do nothing for me and I can’t say I have watched one in the last 3 years.

I was waiting with baited breath for the introduction of the ALRC to the game in the hope of some encouragement arising from their management of the game that might pull me back into the fray as a fully fledged NRL fan. To say that they have not done so would be an understatement.

Before we even get to my disgust with the draw, two other issues need to be mentioned in passing: the outlawing of the shoulder charge and the change in venue for the 2013 State of Origin series.

Rugby league is a tough game played by hard men: it involves body contact and one only needs to see the advertisements for the game run by Channel 9 and Foxsports to see that it is that one on one contact that sells the game. Fans of the game do not remember and do not discuss around the water cooler a tackle around the waist; they do however exclaim “did you see that big hit!”. I can not understand what the ALRC are trying to achieve by banning a form of tackle that has been part of the game since it started.

The State of Origin was meant to held with two games to be held in Brisbane this year. The commercial imperatives that relate to this decision I understand and frankly I could not be happier that Queensland will win their 8th series in a row at Lang Park in the second game. Will make the 3rd game a fizzer won’t it?

My major problem and why I can feel no attachment to the game is the way the ARLC treat their fans. There is no more clearer example of this than with the 2013 draw. The draw put out recently is frankly a travesty if you are a fan of any team other than Brisbane, Bulldogs, Titans or West Tigers. As a Canberra Raiders fan I have taken some time to consider when Canberra Raiders fans might get to see their team on free to air TV during the first 20 rounds of the season and it does not make for pretty reading. That is because, from the look of the draw, during the first 20 rounds of the season the Canberra Raiders will appear only once on Free to Air television. To put that in context: Channel 9 will have the rights to 60 games during that period and only once will the Canberra Raiders play in the 7:45pm Friday night or 3pm Sunday afternoon slots that get shown on Channel 9.

Mark your calendars those of you without Foxtel who follow Canberra because the only chance your going to get to see your team play on Channel 9 will be on 28 June against South Sydney. That is of course unless you go to the games or buy Foxtel. This is the way the ALRC have treated a team that came 6th on the table last year and made the second week of the finals.

It is not good for the fans. It is not good for the sponsors of the Canberra Raiders. It is not good for the game.

This fact has raised in my mind a broader question: is it just the Raiders that the ALRC is happy to ignore or are their other teams in the same boat?

I concede that I understand some of the commercial imperatives that sit behind Channel 9 showing the Broncos 14 times and I can understand showing the grand finalist Bulldogs 14 times. The problem though with scheduling is clearly broader than just a problem with the Raiders when you consider that the premiers, the Melbourne Storm, will only be seen on free to air TV 7 times in the first 20 rounds of the season whilst other teams that made the top 8 like the Sea Eagles (6 times), the Sharks (4 times) and the Cowboys (5 times) also receive only limited airplay.

Paradoxically, being a non-performing team does not seem to effect your exposure to the free to air television audience with the West Tigers (10th in 2012) to be seen on free to air TV 11 times.

This is a game built around its fans and the entertainment given to those fans. However it is clear that for the ALRC some fans mean more than others.

Now I know many readers will just consider this to be a whinge of disenfranchised fan looking for an outlet and part they will be right. The fact is though that I am sure I am not alone as a fan of a rugby league club who is not, in fact, a fan of the game any more. Am I the only one who now only watches my team play? Am I alone in only watching the Channel 9 coverage when my team plays?

This is obviously an issue for the grassroots rugby league fan base but it does not appear to be across the ALRC’s radar. If it is on said radar then clearly they have just been blinded by the wad of money coming from David Gyngell. Until the voices of the fans are heard I can’t say I expect to return to the fold as a fully fledged rugby league fan. This is something that saddens me because some of my favourite memories as child are of sitting with my dad watching Friday night football and talking to him and my mates in anticipation of the games ahead.

And with that there is nothing else really to say except go the mighty Raiders and bring on Super 15 season.

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