NRL's mission to bring Sydney fans back
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has dismissed talk the code was forced to wake up and react following a slump in crowd figures across Sydney in 2017.
Flexibility and more control with scheduling has allowed for Greenberg and his team to sift through the demands from fans and clubs for next season with more matches scheduled for Sunday afternoons across the Sydney region.
"Putting a draw together is a complex exercise with a multitude of layers – venue capacities and availabilities, club requests and player milestone games, welfare considerations and traditional derbies," Greenberg said at the launch of the 2018 Telstra Premiership draw on Thursday.
"Sydney has been a difficult marketplace with crowds for a long period of time and that won't change next year.
"We will have to work hard – the game and clubs have to be mindful of offerings that fans will enjoy. I'm confident the draw will give us every opportunity to do that."
The Brisbane Broncos are also set to host three Sunday afternoon clashes at Suncorp Stadium in a change-up to recent seasons, and welcomed the news on Thursday.
The Broncos continue to lead free-to-air coverage with 17 matches televised through Channel Nine in 2018.
The Sydney Roosters are next with 15 games on free-to-air, followed by North Queensland and Parramatta (13 games), Sydney-based clubs Canterbury, South Sydney, Penrith, Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra are next with a dozen games apiece, while Cronulla and premiers Melbourne feature in 11 clashes on Channel Nine.
Manly (7) and Canberra (6) are next in line, while the Titans (3), Newcastle (2) and Warriors (1) round out the free-to-air coverage.
"Our broadcast partners have commercial rights, as they should do," Greenberg said.
"This is a big business that goes back through the game.
"More than 11 clubs will experience free-to-air than previously. We make no apologies for being as commercially focused as we are.
"We've tried to find a balance."
Greenberg was confident the standalone State of Origin fixture on June 24 in Sydney would be a victory for all involved, with the NRL Telstra Premiership set for a week's breather over the period.
"I think clubs and fans will see less of an impact on their [club] sides," he said.
"We hold the [competition] up for the week to allow Origin to shine.
"It is a big step but a positive step for the broadcasters and fans.
"The other Origins will continue [on Wednesday's in the future]."
With members of the RLPA in attendance at the NRL draw launch on Thursday, Greenberg confirmed the code continued to work through the Collective Bargaining Agreement process with a settlement expected soon.
"We've had good dialogue post-grand final with the RLPA," he said.
"I would say we are close, the relationship is strong and I'm confident we will conclude the deal as soon as possible.
"It's moving in the right direction."
Player welfare is one of the RLPA's highest priorities and the NRL has worked hard to ensure player burnout would not be an issue next season.
"We've been able to halve five-day turnarounds over two years," Greenberg said.
"I am hopeful over the next few years we can continue to reduce that."