The Injured All-Stars highlight the NRL’s big problem
The NRL’s ever-increasing season is slowly killing its own product.
Following Shaun Johnson’s potentially season-ending knee injury on Friday night, he joins a long list of Test and representative stars out for long periods. A quick look at NRL.com’s casualty ward update heading into Round 20 shows how many quality players are nursing injuries instead of playing football.
Shaun Johnson’s season is likely over but he is expected to play in the Rugby League World Cup. https://t.co/uNxYgx0Zum
— Triple M NRL (@TripleM_NRL) July 17, 2017
The Injured All-Stars
Greg Inglis (Australia – ACL, indefinite)
Jorge Taufua (Tonga – knee, season)
Antonio Winterstein (Samoa – calf, indefinite)
Josh Hoffman (New Zealand – knee, Round 20)
Shaun Kenny-Dowall (New Zealand – hamstring, Round 20)
Johnathan Thurston (Australia – shoulder, season)
Shaun Johnson (New Zealand – ACL, indefinite)
Russell Packer (New Zealand – hip/groin, indefinite)
Siliva Havili (Tonga – pectoral, season)
Matt Scott (Australia – ACL, season)
Beau Scott (Australia – biceps, season)
Frank Pritchard (Samoa – foot, Round 20)
Trent Merrin (Australia – knee, indefinite)
Interchange: Kaysa Pritchard (Samoa – knee, season), James Graham (England – neck, Round 21), Peter Wallace (Scotland – groin, Round 20), Jordan McLean (Australia – cheek, Round 20)
The current season started in February and will end in December for those who make the World Cup final. In between, we’ve got World Club Challenge games, pre-season trials and at least 26 rounds of regular season football.
The game’s power brokers also need to fit in marquee products like Test matches and State of Origin games.
— Sporting News AU (@sportingnewsau) June 24, 2017
Herein lies the great issue for Todd Greenberg and co: how to maximise profit and keep the quality high. With the advances in sports medicine, nutrition and high-performance environments, players will continue to get bigger, stronger and faster.
All fans want to see the best players week in, week out. But it’s the casual supporters likely to stay away if magic men like Shaun Johnson, Johnathan Thurston or James Graham are missing.
Despite the ongoing efforts and money put into recovery, massage and sports science, the risk of serious injury from repeated contact is a ticking time bomb for the NRL’s elite.
Penrith Panthers forward Trent Merrin will be sidelined for a number of weeks as a result of a knee injury… https://t.co/meFmHcWLIT
— NRL Gossip (@NRLGossip) July 17, 2017
It’s the above list that gets you thinking about why this is the case.
This extends to halfbacks and five-eighths, too. Johnson and Thurston are two of the NRL’s two most marketable and famous players. Suddenly, the competition got a little bit less exciting.
What’s the answer? Less NRL games?
Here’s a solution.
Make the World Club Challenge concept every two or three years, rather than demanding it be at the beginning of each season. Cut the NRL season to 20 games, with stand-alone week’s devoted to Test matches (mid-season and end of year) and Origin (three week’s of build up per year).
The NRL still has time to change this. The broadcast deal is yet to be finalised – and they will expect value on their investment, so more games will be their currency.
But the NRL competition – and representative football – needs its stars playing.