“Absolutely, no question about that,” said NRL head of football Graham Annesley. “It costs us nothing to run those [fan] surveys. We run them through our own website.
“Peter [V’landys], in particular, and the commission, are very focused on listening to what our fans say. I’ve got no doubt we’ll be running more surveys and listening and the commission will take those factors into whatever decision they make.
“There will be many other factors the board will have to consider in making that decision but, of course, the input [of the fans] will be extremely important.”
V’landys cited an NRL-conducted fan survey as a factor in reverting to one referee for the first time in more than a decade, and Annesley indicated more innovation could result from further stakeholder feedback.
“Peter makes no secret, he’s on the record on a number of occasions saying he is an innovator,” Annesley said. “You have to listen to your fans and make the game as entertaining as possible so that it becomes as valuable as possible.
“No one is going to buy a product – either as a fan going through the gate or a broadcaster paying for rights – if the content isn’t what people want to see. Of course we have to constantly review.”
Tensions between the NRL and the Professional Rugby League Match Officials were high as late as Friday afternoon, after the latter released an inflammatory statement slamming the NRL as “arrogant” and claiming any cost savings would be “peanuts”. However, the referees ultimately did not want to become an impediment to a return to football ahead it resumption between Parramatta and Brisbane.
“I can’t express strongly enough the role the referees themselves played in resolving this situation,” Annesley said. “They did not want the game to go through arbitration. They wanted the focus to be on Thursday night and I applaud them for their decision.
“It’s something they should get credit for, that they put the game first, and we’re very grateful.”
Deploying one referee won’t be the only change when football returns on Thursday. Referees will signal six again instead of awarding penalties for ruck infringements in a bid to speed up play and reduce the wrestle.
The NRL is already anticipating ways coaches will look to exploit the rule, underlined via out an email obtained by The Sun-Herald which clarifyies how it will work. Stripping the ball will still result in a full penalty, while defenders who refuse to release the ball in an attempt to slow down play will concede a professional foul, resulting in a full penalty and a stint in the sin bin.
If a six-again call is conceded on a zero tackle, the attacking team will still get a fresh set of six after the next tackle.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.