The NRL has missed a chance to consolidate its footprint in New Zealand after scheduling the Warriors’ preliminary final against the Broncos for 7.50pm AEST, or 9.50pm NZST.
The Warriors’ resurrection in 2023 to their first preliminary final since 2011 — when the side finished runners up — has captured the imagination of the entire nation.
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The Warriors have all but sold out of jerseys, have had a pop up mystery tattoo parlour and having people question whether New Zealanders would rather the All Blacks win the Rugby World Cup or Andrew Webster’s men bring the NRL premiership trophy home to Auckland.
The scenes at Go Media Stadium in Auckland on Saturday for the Warriors’ 40-10 win over the Newcastle Knights were unprecedented in the country with the stadium heaving in incredible scenes.
Fox League’s Yvonne Sampson said: “Rugby league in New Zealand has never experienced scenes like this and the Warriors have now booked their ticket to Brisbane for a blockbuster in the preliminary final.
“They are the best fans we have in the NRL.”
So the NRL would obviously reward them with a reasonable game time so children will grow up wanting to be Warriors rather than All Blacks? Unfortunately not.
With both Friday’s match between the Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Storm, and Saturday’s clash between the Brisbane Broncos and Warriors are scheduled for 7.50pm AEST (9.50pm NZST).
It means Warriors fans will have to stay up until close to midnight to see if their team can make the Grand Final for the third time — not exactly kid friendly.
And more bizarre, the NRL had already catered for the Warriors, moving their qualifying final against the Panthers to 4pm AEST on Saturday, the first time since 2019 the finals wouldn’t start with the minor premiers.
And then again on Saturday’s semi-final against the Knights, it was 4pm AEST, which is 6pm NZST.
Speaking on SEN on Monday, The Daily Telegraph’s David Riccio said the issue shows that the NRL has no idea the impact the Warriors have had in New Zealand.
“We need to have a grasp on what is happening in New Zealand in relation to the growth of the game,” Riccio said on SEN 1170 Breakfast.
“It’s unprecedented interest in the Warriors and overarching that is the NRL.
“The (NRL) brand is making inroads like we have never seen in the NRL.
“When we get to discussions about a second team in New Zealand and potentially taking a State of Origin game to New Zealand, you need to jump on any significant opportunities that comes your way — and it’s right now.
“This is the present moment where there is a groundswell of momentum where first time supporters of the game are buying tickets to go watch the Warriors play. They are watching the Warriors on TV for the first time because of this huge momentum shift in New Zealand.
“You can’t buy a jersey in New Zealand so the NRL needed to pivot and change the kick-off time to cater for this moment in time. This is a monumental moment for the game as far as the growth is concerned.
“It’s too late now and it should’ve been changed. It should’ve been thought of beforehand.
“I understand the biggest investors in this are the TV broadcasters. But the NRL have shown, and credit to them, it was a terrific move to make these (Warriors finals) games at 4pm (Australian time) and the TV ratings and crowds have been strong.
“It’s a badly missed opportunity to kick this game off at 10 o’clock, midnight finish for a landmark opportunity for the game — and kids staying up until midnight to watch the Warriors.”
What adds insult to injury is that the Brisbane Lions are hosting Carlton — who live in the same time-zone outside of daylight savings — at 5.15pm at the Gabba on Saturday night.
It’s not the only controversy with scheduling with Panthers CEO Brian Fletcher calling on the NRL to move all preliminary finals to neutral venues.
The Panthers will host the Storm at the 83,500-seat Accor Stadium, while the Broncos will play at their 52,500-seat home ground of Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
“The system in place has to be updated to give everybody an equal chance,” Fletcher told The Daily Telegraph.
“It should be that everybody has the chance to play their semi-finals at home in week one and week two.
“But, after that, every other final should be played at a neutral, major stadium.
“Brisbane gets two semi-finals at home and it’s unfair. Why should they play two semi-finals at home?”
Fletcher said that although he’d love the Panthers to play the prelim at the 22,500-seat BlueBet Stadium in Penrith, he understands “the rules don’t allow us that and our next choice is Accor Stadium.”
On Fox League’s NRL 360, The Daily Telegraph’s Phil Rothfield said: “I’ve never heard anything more outrageous in my life”.
The final scheduling issues is about the Grand Final start time.
Since 2001, the NRL has pushed the start time from the traditional 3pm kickoff to either a night (2001-2007, 2013-onwards) or a twilight Grand Final (2008-2012) timeslot to maximise TV ratings.
However, in recent years, there has been a renewed push for an earlier start time — which would undoubtedly heat up if the Warriors qualify for the decider in 2023.
On NRL 360, Gorden Tallis said: “I think some things are bigger than ratings and I think kids sitting with their families and sitting with their dads and having BBQs. I think it belongs to the people and having it earlier … that’s how I fell in love with the game — sitting with my dad watching grand finals. At night-time, kids normally fall asleep.”
Rothfield said that while the fans want the afternoon Grand Final, the NRL “are running a business where Nine and Fox Sports put in considerable money we can’t do without.”
Originally published as ‘Absolute joke’: NRL slammed over Warriors’ midnight prelim finish