The MCG should be used as a neutral venue for Origin.
The MCG should be used as a neutral venue for Origin. JULIAN SMITH

Selling off game could be good for grassroots

RUGBY league has long been peddled as a sport for the blue-collar brigade.

It is the code usually consigned to the bottom rung of the socio-economic footy ladder.

Until recently, that is ... until pay-for-view television became a must-have component of our daily entertainment.

Rugby league is made for TV. The athletes are fit and skilful, the game is fast, open and rugged, and as an entertainment vehicle it rates its head off.

And, even more importantly, at all times the ball is in full view. The focus of the camera is where the contest is being played.

With those qualities and the resultant ratings, rugby league has evolved into a very saleable item.

The most recent NRL broadcast rights deal, which comes into effect from 2018, hit almost $2 billion.

That is 70% more than the existing agreement with the broadcasters.

In terms of what was paid to buy broadcast rights 20 years ago, this new deal is off the planet.

And, seemingly, it has given those running the game an appetite for more.

Rugby league is no longer a sport for the blue-collar worker. It has grown from a game to a business, and now to a product. And it's a product of which others want a piece.

The most saleable components of the product are the NRL grand final and State of Origin, not surprisingly.

And, also predictably, a furore has erupted among fans about the possibility these games may be sold off to the highest bidder.

For what it's worth, the grand final should never be moved from Sydney.

That is where the game was born in 1906 and whether Queenslanders like it or not, Sydney IS the traditional home of rugby league. And if we sell off our tradition, we have sold our soul.

Selling off one game of Origin, however, is not as abhorrent.

One game in the home of each state and the third in a neutral venue seems more than fair, especially if that third match can generate a speculated $12 million cash bonanza.

But if that third game is played in Melbourne, New Zealand or Perth - or wherever - one proviso is critical.

The additional funding must go to the grassroots of the game, not the players or the NRL clubs, and certainly not to employ more bodies at NRL headquarters.

If that plan was put to the rank and file, I reckon it would get the green light. After all, only a miniscule number of fans in Queensland and NSW get to see an Origin game live anyway.

And irrespective of where it is played, the rest of us view it on TV, where the ball is in full view at all times.

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