Far be it for me to tell the NRL and News Limited how to run things, but the following advice is for free.

In the eyes of some, yesterday’s attendance at AAMI Park for the Melbourne Storm versus Newcastle Knights match is seen as a disappointing turnout.

Manly Chairman Scott Penn was also frustrated at the 13,000 plus attendance for the Sea Eagles opening finals match, but as someone who knows sport in Melbourne inside and out, 14,845 is a bloody good number.

The Sea Eagles point the finger at the current McIntyre Finals series system.  Second versus seventh is –on paper anyway – a non-event and more so is first versus eighth.

With this in mind, the Storm’s attendance figure for Sunday is in every respect outstanding, given that across the road – literally – 90,000 people turned up to watch Carlton give Essendon a genuine pantsing in a sudden-death Elimination Final.

While Collingwood versus Carlton is the AFL’s equivalent of the fibro’s versus the silvertails, Essendon and Carlton have a century old rivalry and a genuine dislike of each other on and off the park.  The Blues and the Bombers (two of the AFL’s “Big Four” clubs) have membership counts that NRL clubs can only dream of at present and supporter bases that cross the length and breadth of the country.

To put things in terms that League fans may appreciate; schedule the Sydney Swans in a double chance final against North Melbourne at the SCG.  Across the road at the SFS, schedule Manly against Wests Tigers* or The Roosters and Souths in a sudden death playoff and that’s pretty much the situation that the NRL and the Storm found itself in yesterday.

David Gallop and co. need to immediately consider rescheduling Manly’s Preliminary Final to Saturday evening and the Melbourne Storm’s Preliminary Final to a stand-alone fixture on the Sunday afternoon at AAMI Park.  Etihad Stadium shouldn’t even be coming into calculations as an NRL finals venue.

Why?  Simple.  Collingwood and Geelong will each be hosting Preliminary Finals against either of Hawthorn, the Sydney Swans, Carlton or the West Coast Eagles.  Based on the past decade or so, these matches are likely to be scheduled for Friday night and Saturday night.

Who plays whom is irrelevant – although the AFL would admit it would be difficult to complain about four heavily supported Victorian-based sides playing off for a Grand Final berth – the point is that Preliminary Final weekend is what AFL fans are coming to know as the “People’s Finals”; an electric atmosphere, sell-out crowds comprised almost exclusively of supporters of the competing teams and for a lot of AFL fans a de-facto start to Grand Final week.

I’m not in any way suggesting the Prelim’s are of any lesser interest to League fans, but to have a NRL final with it’s Victorian club competing against the AFL on this particular Saturday is setting the Storm and the competition up for failure as far as crowds and ratings are concerned.

The NRL has Friday night and Saturday as their Prelim Finals dates.  League has nothing to lose by having one Preliminary Final Saturday night and one on Sunday afternoon.

In terms of ratings, Manly’s Preliminary Final is already going head-to-head with an AFL Prelim.  A reschedule would simply be changing the evening it’s on the box. Victorian audiences will already be getting this final on delay anyway so southern television audience numbers won’t be affected.

Re-scheduling the Storm V Wests/Warriors match to Sunday will guarantee bigger crowds and bigger ratings given that it would conceivably be the only show in town and a lead in to Nine’s evening news in Sydney (and Melbourne if the Exec’s concerned were to be truly courageous).

I love AFL and I love Rugby League. I say this as both a sports fan and a convert to League; there are plenty of us who love both codes. Don’t make us choose.

Reschedule it, and we will come.

Like it? Tell your friends. Hate it? Tell me.

*The example of Manly V Wests Tigers is based on their present rivalry and not a piss-weak attempt at reviving the aforementioned Silvertails/Fibros schtick.


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