Cameron George, the chief executive of the New Zealand Warriors, is eager for his team not to be compelled to host a final at almost 10pm local time, to suiting a prime-time Australian TV audience. Should they not succeed against Brisbane or Penrith next weekend, a semi-final the week afterward will be held on New Zealand soil. If victorious, however, the Kiwis – dubbed the feel-good story of this year’s competition – will enjoy a week’s respite before hosting a preliminary final.
George is appealing to the National Rugby League (NRL) and media company, Nine, to reconsider the 7.50pm kick-off slot and advance their final to a 4pm New Zealand time (6pm, Sydney time) on a Saturday. The challenge, though, arises from Nine’s already established schedule to air an NRL Women’s (NRLW) double-header on September 16, which coincides with the second week of NRL finals.
“We won’t accept a 9.50pm kick-off, and no rugby league fan should either,” Cameron George stated emphatically. Continuing, he explained, “We’re guaranteed a final in New Zealand, but no stakeholders of the game would think it’s fitting or advantageous to keep the 7.50pm AEST timeslot.”
George also expressed his belief that the pre-existing broadcast agreement would cater for an appropriate semi-final timeslot for a New Zealand-based game that is suitable for viewership in both countries. He suggested that optimal times would be at 6pm in New Zealand and 4pm in Australia, which, he proposes, could work perfectly on a Saturday, potentially boosting audience figures for broadcasters.
George is scheduled to meet with NRL representatives next week to finalise details like time and venue. Given the unanticipated success of the Warriors team, advancing to the finals and securing a top-four finish seemed highly unlikely until recently.
Selecting the best venue presented difficulties as well, with the 45,000-seater Eden Park initially touted as a preferable alternative to Mt Smart Stadium, which can accommodate 26,000. However, Eden Park sold tickets for the Qatar Airways Hole in One Challenge, which clashes with the second week schedule of the finals.
The consensus is that the Warriors deserve a fair consideration regarding the finals’ timing, given they’ve travelled extensively over the past two years to allow the competition to proceed amidst the COVID pandemic.
The previously scheduled NRLW double-header is to commence with the Roosters versus the Cowboys at 1pm at Nestrata Jubilee Stadium, followed by the Dragons against the Broncos at 3pm. Travel and accommodation arrangements for the teams have been already settled.
One proposition for the second week is to advance the Warriors‘ game to 4pm and relocate the NRLW double-header to the now vacant 7pm slot. If the Warriors host in the third week, a Saturday afternoon kick-off seems likely, given no overlap with the NRLW.
The Brisbane versus Melbourne game on Thursday night, which starred several peripheral first-grade players, attracted an audience of 739,000. This made it the third most-viewed game on Nine for the current NRL season.