The 2022 NRL Grand Final is being played in Sydney, as it should be. We took the long road to get there, but in the end the NRL made the only decision that made sense and kept the season defining game at Accor Stadium.
But if the saga of the past few weeks bored and frustrated you to tears, I have some bad news for you: it’s about to happen all over again.
The NRL has put its cards on the table, declaring the Grand Final is essentially for sale, opening itself up to a Super Bowl style concept where the game makes its way around the country each year.
It is a disappointing position and one that paints the NRL as selfish, ungrateful and lacking respect for the game’s important history and traditions.
Can you imagine the AFL even considering not playing the Grand Final at the MCG? (global pandemics aside). It wouldn’t happen, because the AFL respects its fan base too much and laps up its history. There is nothing more sacred in Melbourne than that last Saturday in September.
But the NRL, not so much. It’s happy to sell its soul and play its decider in Perth, Adelaide, Queensland or presumably Miami if the cheque is big enough.
“In the best interests of the game,” ARLC Commissioner Peter V’landys will claim.
The Grand Final debate over the last weeks and only drove the wedge between Mr V’landys and the fan base greater.
He is an extraordinary administrator and negotiator, no question. And his efforts to ensure rugby league returned in 2020 and flourished during and after the pandemic will never be forgotten and bought him enormous time and grace with the fans.
But that support is waning.
Whether it’s on-field changes like set restarts, drama with The Bunker or now the Grand Final, many are questioning the tinkering of Mr V’landys and his influence over the game.
Sydney is rugby league’s spiritual home. It is wonderful the game has continued to expand, and grow its audience, but expansion does not have to equal throwing away your traditions.
The ticket sales, corporate opportunities and flow-on income should be more than enough for the NRL to play the game where it wants regardless of if a government is throwing money at you.
Of course governments should play a role in such major events, including financially to some extent, but it simply shouldn’t be a determining factor in where you play the game that defines you.
Sydney is hardly a free kick for the NRL as it is. There’s plenty of competing interests and the AFL continues to make inroads and won’t give up no matter how long it takes them to slowly infiltrate rugby league heartland.
The NRL has already allowed State of Origin to be played regularly outside of NSW and QLD, robbing Sydney of one match every two years. Its clubs take games to the bush (a good thing), to Perth, to Adelaide and maybe even to America next year.
If the NRL is not careful, it will start to lose traction it its most important market. Certainly losing the Grand Final would push that along and they’d be rubbing their hands together down at AFL House.
All of this dram started because the State Government pulled out of its promise to upgrade suburban stadiums.
A promise is a promise, that’s true, and the NRL has every right to voice its disappointment in the backflip.
But it got it dreadfully wrong when it held the Grand Final and rugby league’s fans as collateral against Dominic Perrottet and co.
Let’s not forget the State Government has delivered a complete re-build of the Sydney Football Stadium, home of the Sydney Roosters and possibly the South Sydney Rabbitohs from next season.
It funded and re-built CommBank Stadium in Parramatta, home to the Eels and a likely Finals venue for some clubs depending on the circumstance. Teams like the Bulldogs and Wests Tigers have also taken home games to CommBank.
And then there’s Penrith, where Dominic Perrottet’s government will deliver a brand new stadium that will be home to the Panthers.
It’s fair to say the NRL should be pretty grateful with what the State Government has already delivered.
It has taken the NRL on a date, bought dinner and spent the night. The fact it didn’t buy breakfast too shouldn’t have garnered the reaction it did from the game’s administrators.
The NRL likes to argue that venues like Brookvale, Leichhardt and Shark Park are used by more than just NRL clubs; that they’re community assets.
At one stage Mr V’landys even suggested such investments ensured kids got off video games, as if the NRL was the white knight saving our kids from a life of obesity and screen time.
Let’s be honest: the NRL wants these upgrades primarily for its clubs. The fact it’s used by other sports, or for junior footy, is simply a by-product.
I like Peter V’landys. I think he operates in such a way that he gets results, and I do believe that he respects the game that he grew up loving and supporting.
But the bullish approach that’s developed more recently, particularly over the Grand Final, is not a good look.
The Grand Final needs to be in Sydney for many years to come. It is where it belongs, plain and simple.
If the NRL sells it to the highest bidder, it will be at its own peril.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.