New NRL boss Andrew Abdo rolls with the punches as the world looks on

Mercifully, the return match – the Broncos-Eels blockbuster – is finally days away and Abdo is still on his feet. If it proceeds without a hitch, the NRL will become one of the first professional sporting leagues in the world to resume play. The NRL has learnt much from watching Germany’s football league resume, is now being asked to share its experience with international sporting codes.

“The Bundesliga are pretty advanced and have done a good job,” Abdo said. “We’ve been looking closely at what they have been up to.

“We’ve had a number of requests [for advice from overseas]. We’ve taken the approach to share as much as we can with some of the other codes around the world, as far away as places like Ireland and Europe.

“We’re in a crisis, so the ability to share information with other sports is a rare opportunity to help out and build a relationship.

“You don’t want to get too ahead of yourself. We’ve still got four days to go, and things will probably go wrong between now and then, but I’m confident we’ll get there.”

NRL acting chief executive Andrew AbdoCredit:AAP

With virtually no other live sport to compete against, the NRL has been presented with a unique opportunity to attract new fans. That could include those living overseas, as the governing body seeks to extend its reach via streaming and broadcast arrangements.

“That is certainly an unintended by-product of charging ahead and getting started on May 28,” Abdo said. “There has been an interest. That has come via Fox Sports, the international rights. They work with TV networks around the world in syndicating our vision.

“There has been strong interest, and my understanding is there will be strong take-up of the Watch NRL app, which is an international streaming app where you can watch NRL games live in any country.

“There’s a window in June-July where we are one of the few playing around the world. It’s a huge opportunity to acquire new fans in those markets.”

Abdo has kept a low profile since his promotion from chief operating officer into the toughest job in Australian sport. But in his first one-on-one interview, he provided The Sun-Herald with an insight into the pressures that come with the role during the most tumultuous period in rugby league’s history.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” Abdo said. “I can’t say looking back that it’s been a great experience, because it’s not over yet. It’s going to be one of those seasons where every round is a victory.

“I use the words relentless and taxing. You put everything on the line, and with that comes a lot of sacrifice, personally and professionally. Your own brand and reputation and powers of resilience [are tested]. It’s long nights and it’s quite lonely.

“Leadership positions are lonely in that you have to think carefully and deliberately and be as fair and objective about such a wide range of things. It fuels your adrenaline and your will to win. Whether you’re an administrator in sport or a player, you want to win.

“Then you get home at night. I haven’t had dinner with my family, they are all asleep and then you sit on the couch and decompress for an hour or two. You put your head on the pillow and then it’s the next morning and people are ringing and there a number of issues to deal with.

“What we can see is how excited everyone is at the start of footy and that keeps you going.”

How long Abdo remains in the role is yet to be determined. The self-confessed Manly fan – “I realise I have alienated about 90 per cent of the fan base” – has been installed on an interim basis.

Does he want the gig long term?


“It’s too early to make that determination,” he said. “That’s a decision for the commission and the chairman on who they want to lead the game permanently. They will turn their minds to that when we are truly on the other side of this crisis.

“I’ve always said I love this sport, and being able to work in rugby league is an absolute privilege. I’ll do all I can to help the game, and if I’m the right person for a period of time, that’s a great opportunity.

“Equally, I’m not expecting it and I certainly haven’t applied my mind to what that opportunity will look like or what is the right thing for me. That’s genuine, that’s not on my mind now.

“There’s just so much to do.”

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