“It will be interesting to see. Will Chambers isn’t there [at Melbourne] anymore, so the chat will be a lot quieter.”
Nine’s head of rugby league Simon Fordham said profanities were often overheard during Intrust Super Cup and Canterbury Cup games because of the smaller crowds, but the NRL coverage would feature a lot more microphones around the various grounds.
“It’s something we’ll definitely monitor as we go and we probably need to ask viewers to be patient with it,” Fordham told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Obviously the restrictions around swearing are a lot firmer on free-to-air TV than they are on subscription TV, so it is something we need to monitor.
“At the same time, one positive is we’ll pick up a lot more audio around the impact and physicality of the game.
“We’ll do our best to shield the public from any profanities on the field. It’s impossible to anticipate when there will be swearing. Sometimes they sneak through, and it’s highly likely we’ll hear a bit more of this across the coming weeks should rugby league continue with no fans.”
Audio engineers will have the job of trying to quickly turn down the volume if they sense a player is about to snap.
Fox Sports’ head of television Steve Crawley said: “We’ll be very aware of it. We know there will be some big hits and when you get hurt most people won’t turn around say, ‘Oh my God’.
“The reality is we can fade the sound up and down. What we’re looking forward to is hearing the thwack of the tackles and the halfbacks calling the shots.”
It’s understood one high-profile player was mic’d up during the Nines coverage last month, but none of the audio ever made it on to Fox Sports’ coverage – because there were too many expletives.
Fortunately the Australian Classifications Board conformed sports programs like the NRL were never ‘classified’, which ruled out any chance of this weekend’s games being bumped from PG to MA.
Graham’s Cronulla teammate Shaun Johnson, the well-spoken Kiwi who does not strike fans as a potty-mouth, quipped: “I don’t know if [the swearing] will increase but you might hear it a bit more. It’s there every week. It’s friendly banter. It’s all part of the game. You’ll have to listen in.”
Johnson joked the players were well prepared for this weekend after just 6000 fans watched them at ANZ Stadium last weekend against Souths.
Graham also quipped the eerie silence would make it easier for TV viewers to hear Storm skipper Smith arguing with referees.
Meanwhile, Graham spoke about the run-in he had with Latrell Mitchell on Saturday when the Souths’ No. 1 appeared to twist at his leg after he had scored a try. The pair exchanged words after the incident.
“It wasn’t great. The only reason I noticed it was because it was the knee I hurt last year,” Graham said. “We had a few words, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt it was just an accident. He said to me after the game he didn’t realise he had done it.”
Some clubs have already explored ways to generate atmosphere minus the fans, including the Wests Tigers, who have invited supporters to send in photos of themselves cheering their team. The images will be pinned inside the walls of the Leichhardt Oval dressing-room in a bid to inspire the players before they run out against Newcastle on Sunday afternoon.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.