NRL news 2023: NRL’s embarrassing reality laid bare in preliminary finals weekend as AFL crowds dominate

Despite the odd drubbing, both the AFL and NRL finals series have produced enough pulsating electricity to revive Elvis to perform on grand final day.

But while the footy proper has offered a buffet of fairytales and supreme contests, preliminary final weekend saw a deadset bloodbath in the attendance stakes with the AFL hammering rugby league by 13000+.

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Before we start; yes, the Code War debate is older than Phil Gould and twice as tiresome.

But even the most aggressive rugby league extremist would agree the AFL is the indisputable market leader in crowds thanks to its vast stadiums and psycho fans.

However, the scenes of Friday night illustrated there was more daylight between the codes than ever before, and it’s probably only a matter of time before Super League protocol is exhumed and the NRL begins augmenting crowd numbers like a Trump inauguration.

Down in Melbourne, the Collingwood vs Giants final at the MCG attracted a thunderous sellout crowd of 97,665, all of whom would’ve gladly offered up their firstborns for a restricted view from the dunnies.

But 900kms north in Sydney, Accor Stadium hosted a paltry 35,578 for the hotly anticipated Panthers v Storm prelim, with most seats in the 82,000 seater filled by free tickets and hostages.

Considering it’s one of rugby league’s most celebrated rivalries featuring arguably the greatest team of all time, it was an abysmal look for the NRL to see a half-filled stadium half-filled by promo codes.

Saturday night was slightly more positive, with 52,273 saving face for the NRL by packing out Suncorp Stadium for the Broncos v Warriors matchup, although across town there was an equally-excitable Gabba turnout of 36,012 for the Lions win over Carlton.

Overall, the numbers beg one particular question:

With Brisbane pulling its weight and pressure cooker venues like McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle and Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium also thrumming with league fever, who is to blame for the NRL’s feeble reputation for crowd numbers?

Easy. It’s a Sydney problem.

But more specifically, Sydneysiders, Penrith and bureaucratic fat cats, and the throbbing arrogance of all three.

In the race against the AFL for the supporter dollar, rugby league in Sydney suffers the aerodynamic drag of being the greatest city in the world.

Whether too busy paying off their million dollar mortgages or sunning at one of its sparkling beaches, Sydney fans are a fickle bunch who refuse anything that isn’t worthy of their time, kinda like a city entirely made up of Manly supporters.

Conversely, Sydney crowds also suck because Accor Stadium is the pits.

While sporting basilicas like the MCG and Suncorp Stadium are nestled in vibrant sporting precincts, getting to Accor requires rations and an overnight layover in Lidcombe.

Worse still, fan angst for the venue is of no secret to the tenant clubs nor the game’s administrators, all whom forever ignore their pleas by staging games ad nauseam under long-term deals that are harder to break than a Fitness First contract.

And the final reason nobody attends games like Friday’s prelim?

It’s because the Panthers are about as appealing as a kick to the codpiece.

With their braggadocio and combative Christianity, the side bears no magnetism to anyone but their loyal fans, and they don’t care because you’ve gotta work tomorrow and they don’t.

In fact, the Panthers aloof ‘too cool for school’ attitude mirrors that of its home city, and until both think the other is Instagrammable, the standoff will probably continue.

– Dane Eldridge is a warped cynic yearning for the glory days of rugby league, a time when the sponges were magic and the Mondays were mad.

He’s never strapped on a boot in his life, and as such, should be taken with a grain of salt.

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