AS RUGBY league's independent commission heads into its first official off season, The Sunday Mail identifies 10 key areas the ARLC must address before its first anniversary and round 1 next year....
STADIUM UPGRADES - Some NRL stadiums are in appalling condition. North Queensland, Manly and the Tigers are clubs that need urgent stadium upgrades. If the AFL can lobby for two stadium developments to help GWS in Sydney, why can't the NRL get some immediate action on its grounds?
FIND A NEW CEO - It's been four months now since David Gallop was sacked and the NRL is still without a fulltime chief executive. Now that the embarrassment has subsided after being rejected by AFL No.2 Gillon McLachlan, the ARLC must have a new leader in the hot seat by the new year. The problem is that after McLachlan knocked it back, the drawing board was wiped clean, every original candidate ruled out of contention and the search started all over again. Patience in league land is starting to run thin.
FIX THE REFEREES CRISIS - Sacking Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper this week was just the first step in solving the game's big problem. The next, and most crucial change, isn't the new boss but giving clear direction on rule interpretations and how the game is policed. The obstruction rule, grounding with the chest and blatant abuse of offside are just a sample of issues every fan can see are wrong. It must be fixed.
SETTLE EXPANSION DEBATE - As revealed in The Courier-Mail this week, the ARLC's strategic plan for the game is due for release next week. Aside from plans to strengthen league heartlands from AFL invasion, another key issue that must be addressed is expansion, which will be put off until 2018 at the earliest.
THURSTON AND SCOTT
Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott are two high profile stars trying to negotiate contracts for the 2014 season. Picture: Getty Images Source: The Courier-Mail
SET THE SALARY CAP - With stars like Johnathan Thurston, James Tamou, Matt Scott, Mitchell Pearce and many other giant names in the NRL currently trying to negotiate deals for the 2014 season and beyond, the biggest stumbling block remains the absence of a set salary cap. Most of this year was spent in limbo, with clubs operating under a "projected'' figure for next season, but clubs like North Queensland, who have most of their roster in renegotiation, need to know ASAP otherwise big names could walk out.
REP PLAYER ELIGIBILITY - It's the most vexing issue in league, but if he looks like a Kiwi, talks like a Kiwi, was born a Kiwi and carries a Kiwi passport, then he is a New Zealander. The ARLC has left this in the hands of the international federation, but the commission controls State of Origin. Set its own Origin rules and the international debate will suddenly look after itself.
CLUB FINANCES - The Gold Coast Titans had superannuation issues, Newcastle player payments were late, Cronulla can't afford a CEO and the Wests Tigers have significant financial issues of their own. The game has never been richer but some clubs are still dirt poor. The ARLC must take a closer look at the balance sheets of all clubs and avoid another Titans debt fiasco it should have seen coming this year.
BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT - Linked to issue No.2, except with the advantage of multiple video replays there is still a stench about video referee decisions and the use of benefit of the doubt. Get rid of it. If 1 per cent of doubt is enough to award a try, then the balance of probability is all wrong. If the video referee can't prove a try or not try, then make it a ref's call and get on with the game.
BURNS HIGH HIT
Travis Burn copped 12 weeks for this high shot on Roosters player Martin Kennedy. Picture: Fox Sports Source: The Daily Telegraph
JUDICIARY AND GRADING - Did you know there are 15 different gradings for a high tackle? Fifteen! There are five gradings to each of the three categories of careless, reckless and intentional with penalties ranging up to nine-week bans. Add loading, and it's why someone like Travis Burns copped a 12-week suspension. That is too much. The system needs to be simplified.
PLAYER MID-SEASON MOVES - As stated in issue No.4, players are already negotiating for deals in 2014. Fans don't like it, and I doubt clubs are too happy knowing they're developing talent which could cost them a premiership next season. If the AFL can have a free agency window at the end of the season, why can't the NRL create a window for deals to be made?