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V’landys gets his way with one-ref rule – so what’s next?

But the chairman and his fellow commissioners must tread carefully not to hurry through decisions that will reverberate for years to come.

The one-referee plan was one such botched decision. The next is the broadcast deal, which is expected to be finalised by the end of the week and has far greater consequences than thawing out Greg “Hollywood” Hartley in a gold TNT uniform.

The captain’s challenge was quickly pushed through earlier this year at V’landys’ behest, but the one-ref idea arrived out of thin air.

Last Friday afternoon, it was raised at the weekly Project Apollo meeting with only a few minutes remaining. It caught many of those present by surprise. So did the idea of restarting the tackle count for ruck infringements instead of the referee blowing a penalty.

These were fundamental on-field changes but, within an hour of the meeting ending, V’landys was telling reporters that one referee was a fabulous idea, not least because “it saves a lot of money”.

Just how much is debatable. Reports this week have suggested $3 million. It reeks of spin. The actual figure is believed to be $500,000.

Is the game really going so poorly it needs to tear up the very fabric of the game, in late May, after two rounds have already been played, after two months off, after having two referees for the past 10 seasons, to save just half a million?

Since last Friday’s meeting, several stakeholders have pleaded for V’landys not to make the change so soon, especially in a season that’s already been dramatically affected by COVID-19.

ARLC chairman Peter V'landys and his fellow commissioners need to tread carefully with the decisions they are making.

ARLC chairman Peter V’landys and his fellow commissioners need to tread carefully with the decisions they are making.Credit:AAP

They advised it would be better to pressure test these measures in the state leagues for a season. He didn’t listen.

Will reverting to one referee eliminate the wrestle and help the game flow? Doubtful. Too many teams are well versed in the dark arts of “waltzing” and “turtling” ball-carriers so they can’t find their “front”.

On the surface, restarting the tackle count for ruck infringements – which has also been agreed to by the commission – sounds like a winner, if only to eliminate the cynical penalties teams are prepared to give away when they need a breather defending their own tryline.

But I’d want to see them trialled in lower grades, or in the pre-season, before rushing them into the NRL.

As far as V’landys was concerned, though, these are minor details. He dismissed the criticism earlier this week as “alarmist rhetoric”, which is his go-to phrase whenever someone raises valid questions about his hurried decisions.

Will the other commissioners be so meek when V’landys completes the delicately poised broadcast negotiations with Nine Entertainment Co and Foxtel later this week?

News Corp, which owns Foxtel, reported on Sunday that a deal with both broadcasters was almost done. Better still, it would be extended until the end of 2027 — five years beyond the end of the current deal.


The Herald, which is owned by Nine, reported on Wednesday that Nine wasn’t prepared to make the enormous leap of faith all the way until 2027 – just until the end of 2022 but for less money.

The funny thing about the heady world of sports broadcast rights negotiations is how all parties pretend publicly they don’t need each other when they all actually need each other one way or another.

But nobody needs it more than Fox, which is hemorrhaging subscribers with no sport being played. A seven-year deal the NRL assures its future, although a deal for that long has been met with scepticism from many across the NRL, especially the clubs.

While the last $1.8 billion deal struck with Nine and Foxtel was celebrated as an enormous windfall for the game, the devil was in the detail for those who had to make it work.

The 25 Thursday night matches per season might be a TV ratings winner, and the timeslot of 6pm on a Friday gives people something to watch at the pub immediately after work, but the clubs loathe them because those times undermine crowds and therefore membership.

When interim NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo held a phone hook-up with club bosses on Tuesday night, he could provide little detail on what looms as the most significant broadcast deal in rugby league history.

“Because he didn’t have any,” said one.

Minor details.

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