A radical solution to fix the NRL’s mid-season slump

Every year the NRL falls into a slump and becomes a sideshow to the State of Origin freight train. It's time for some big ideas to fix this.


Picture credit: Mattlore

In 2018 the NRL has decided to minimise this effect by shortening the Origin period, however, it doesn’t solve the problem.

But there is a solution. It’s a LOT crazy, but it has plenty of benefits and has potential to work.

In June, suspend the NRL for 5 weeks and replace the main competition with a small knockout tournament, International and national rep games and Women’s rep games.

This way, representative football gets full focus for 5 weeks, with no impact to NRL sides, in regards to fielding teams lacking rep players, therefore keeping the competition fair for all.

The plan

First up, the knockout competition, which will include the best 8 sides from the NSW Cup and the QLD Cup competitions, as well as the 16 NRL sides (which can be used to blood new players, whose appearances will not impact on second-tier caps). 

Week 1 will be Round 1 and it will see each of the 16 NRL sides playing a NSW Cup/QLD Cup side. These games can all take place in Country/regional areas.

Weeks 2 will see the 16 Week 1 winners play each other, those 8 winners will meet in Week 3 where they will be narrowed down to 4 winners in week 4 and the final between the remaining two winners in Week 5. Offer up a decent prize-money as well as an incentive.

The next competition will be a Pacific 4 Nations, made up of teams from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. They will start their tournament in Week 2 and will play each other once in three rounds, with the two best teams to square off in the final in Week 5.

A six-week Interstate Competition will then take place. It will start the week before the NRL shut down, with Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Northern Territory and the ACT playing each other once over 5 weeks before the top two sides meet in a final in Week 5.

State of Origin will take place in Weeks 2, 3 and 4 with an Australia v New Zealand test on Week 5

The Women’s game will also have a State of Origin series and Australia v New Zealand Tests mirroring the men’s schedule.

Also, stage an All-Australian City v Country game to also take place in Week 5, also in a country/regional area.

This means there would be 19 Week 1 games, 15 Week 2 games, 11 Week 3 games, 9 Week 4 games and 6 Week 5 games.

Cutting down on fixtures

So as to help make this more achievable, the NRL draw should be cut down from 24 games over 26 rounds to 22 games in 22 rounds. A simple structure would be to have the top 8 sides from the season prior to playing each other twice; the bottom 8 sides playing each other twice, and the top and bottom 8 playing each other once.

This format would be just 1 week longer than the current season.

It will seem crazy to many, but this game was born on big ideas that went against the norms of the time. No other code in Australia is doing something like this. The first week of knockout games will take the game to the bush, which means clubs wouldn’t have to lose NRL home games anywhere but still be promoting the game outside their area. New players will get a chance to prove themselves and most importantly, the Women’s game will get the exposure it so richly deserves.

Could Andrew’s radical idea end the dreaded mid-season slump? Let us know in the comments below.

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Andrew Ferguson

Rugby League Historian and Author. Co-Owner of the website www.rugbyleagueproject.org

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