Much has been made about the NRL's season schedule over the last week. Like every rugby league tragic I have not only complained openly about the things I don't like but also hatched a half-baked plan to make it all better.
I have laid out for you below some of the weird and wonderful things that have been rattling around in my head over the last few years with regard to the season schedule. When consuming the 'Ikin Model' I ask you all to remember that rugby league was a game born out of change and innovation . . . so go easy on me!Pre-season
I would like to see a sevens tournament run in a similar fashion to the Indian Premier League kick off the footy season. Ten licenses would go up for auction to be purchased by big corporations and/or wealthy individuals. The successful licensees must then go about securing the services of 10 players who would join their respective teams for five days of training and promotional activities culminating in a three-day sevens tournament. State governments, cities and stadiums would bid for the right to host the tournament with the long term potential extending abroad.
All monies raised from license sales and ancillary commercial agreements would be distributed evenly among the NRL clubs while the players involved would obviously pocket their own appearance fees.
The major benefits that would come out of a concept such as this include:
• The games best players have the capacity to earn above and beyond the current restraints of the salary cap
• The clubs themselves earn significantly more revenue than they would from normal pre-season fixtures
• The game is opened up to an extended list of high net worth individuals or companies that may not have been involved previouslyRegular season
I have based my regular season schedule on the assumption that two extra regional or non-Sydney teams would be included in the competition. The way I see it the season would be split in two.Rounds 1 through 12
My plan would see the nine Sydney-based teams going head-to-head for 12 rounds while the nine regional teams do exactly the same thing on the other side of the draw. At the end of round 12 we would have a Sydney conference winner and a regional conference winner both of whom would pick up trophies and prize money. I would see over time that these mid-season titles would become valued and ensure that the quality of the football played in the first half of the season would be of the highest quality. We would also see more local derbies to kick off the year, particularly in the hotly contested Sydney and south-east Queensland markets.All-Stars weekend
After the first 12 rounds have been played I propose that we take a complete break from the competition proper and have a rugby league weekend extravaganza including:
• State of Origin (yes, one game only)
• Indigenous All-Stars v Pacific Island All Stars
• Toyota Cup State of Origin
• NSW Cup v QLD Cup
• Legends Test match/Origin
• Fastest man in league
• Goal kicking shoot out
I hear the screams about State of Origin only being a one off. Would you believe that my initial thinking was that State of Origin be scrapped all together in favour of a game that would see a Sydney conference All-Stars team go up against a Regional conference All-Stars team.
As much as I love State of Origin, I found what many believe to be the best part of our game actually rather limiting in terms of it's future growth. Some of the NRL's best players don't get to participate in Origin for reasons out of their control. Second, for prospective new franchises outside of NSW and Queensland trying to foster local talent, State of Origin holds no value.
The All-Stars concept would ensure that players such as Benji Marshall, Sam Burgess and Sonny Bill Williams (if he returns) would get to play on the games biggest stage. And should the game continue to grow in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia through the development of local juniors, we need a carrot that is all inclusive.
I also like the idea that the All-Stars weekend would double as a transfer window. NRL clubs would be able to legitimately and openly tweak with their roster in order to set themselves up for a strong finish to the season.Rounds 13 through 24
All points accrued from the first half of the season are wiped and we're off and racing again. Rounds 13 through 24 would see the top five teams from the Sydney conference be joined by the top five teams from the regional conference (10 teams in total) on one side of the draw for 12 rounds of footy. The remaining eight teams from both conferences would go through the same process.
Come the end of round 24, the top six from the higher side of the draw would progress through to the finals ranked one through to 6 while the top two teams from the lower side of the draw would progress and be ranked seven and eight.Finals
With the regular season set out this way, I believe the McIntyre system would be the right model to get us through to grand final day. The AFL model is supposedly more protective of the teams that do well across the regular season but I personally like the unpredictability of the McIntyre system.Test matches
I'm a firm believer that any and all internationals should be played at the completion of the season. Rugby league's major strengths are its domestic competition and local representative fixtures. Test football has its place but I think you'll find that the number of rugby league internationals will reduce over time under the governance of a new independent commission.
Now as I said earlier, these are just the ramblings of a bloke who loves the game. I hope this sparks some of your own ideas that may one day end up wrapped around rugby league. Enjoy your footy!