The bidders had started to line up coaches and discussions were being had about what roster structure changes would need to be made to ensure there was enough depth in talent to cover for an additional team.
At best, plans are now on the backburner. But the reality of the situation has many inside NRL headquarters convinced expansion in 2023 is now dead.
Medical experts will tell you the finish line is nowhere near in sight, that perhaps Australia hasn’t even left the starting blocks.
The NRL won’t comment because there is a hope the game isn’t severely impacted and could land on its feet, but something drastic would have to change for expansion to be put back on the list of priorities.
What was this year expected to be the biggest off-field talking point is now almost a moot point.
The NRL had formed a special committee at the start of last year to look into its expansion options, of which Perth has since been discarded.
The game will have its hands full ensuring the survival of its current 16 teams, let alone worrying about another.
TV ratings on slide
NRL television ratings from round one to two have dropped despite an anticipated 125,000 fans being locked out of venues around the country due to coronavirus restrictions.
This column gathered all the numbers from the first six games of the round (Sunday figures weren’t available at time of publication) to compare the opening two rounds of the season.
It was widely assumed that having no crowds at games would boost television numbers, but that wasn’t the case.
A total of 2.63 million viewers tuned in across Fox Sports and Nine Network for the opening six games of round one, however that dropped slightly to 2.6 million in round two despite many fans being forced to watch from home.
Numbers were down around 8.5 per cent on Thursday night (accumulative Fox and Nine), which was somewhat to be expected given the Bulldogs-Cowboys were always going to struggle to attract the same amount for the Eels-Bulldogs on the opening night of the season a week earlier.
However there was also a similar drop for the total viewers across both networks for the Friday 8pm game (Broncos v Rabbitohs), with 888,000 compared to 968,000 for the Cowboys-Broncos game the week before.
Fox Sports experienced a spike in the Friday 6pm time slot, with a 35 per cent increase from round one to two. The pay TV network also experienced an increase from round one to two in each of the three games on Saturday, with 285,000 tuning in for the Sharks-Storm game.
None of the four round one AFL games on Fox Sports on Saturday eclipsed the 200,000 mark, however the NRL has managed to surpass that figure four times in the six Saturday games over the opening couple of rounds.
Don’t be surprised to see a few double-headers over the next few months, should the competition continue. The NRL has been working overtime on saving costs across the business, but also ways they can help reduce costs for their partners.
One measure that has been discussed is the potential for double-headers to reduce game-day and production costs for clubs and the code’s broadcast partners.
The reality is most, if not all, of home ground advantage is lost without a crowd – but even so some would argue the financial state of the game needs to take precedence over a club’s want for a slight psychological advantage.
The NRL won’t change the days and time slots of games for as long as it remains a 25-round competition, however there are opportunities in the fixture to minimise costs.
While nothing has been locked in, the NRL has an opportunity to create a double header this Friday night when the Sea Eagles host the Warriors at Lottoland, followed by the Rabbitohs and Roosters at ANZ Stadium.
ANZ Stadium has five dressing sheds and could easily cater for a back-to-back night of NRL. it would also make it easier for the Warriors, who could land their charter flight at Bankstown airport and make the 15 minute trip to ANZ Stadium rather than the hour plus trip across the harbour to play at Brookvale. There’s also an opportunity in round four to do it twice.
You could play the Bulldogs-Sharks and Panthers-Broncos games on Saturday out at ANZ Stadium, then play the Eels-Dragons and Roosters-Titans games on Sunday out at Bankwest Stadium.
Hats off to those who showed their appreciation to the Warriors by purchasing a club membership in recent days. The Warriors have been inundated, with around 500 Australians, including Phil Gould, spending their toilet paper allowance on club memberships over the weekend.
Michael Chammas is a sports reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald