The NRL has already stood down Dragons forward Jack de Belin, Sea Eagles centre Dylan Walker and Panthers utility Tyrone May under its new no-fault rule after all were charged by police. The governing body is bracing for a looming Federal Court ruling on de Belin’s challenge to his standing down.
«There are many factors that influence peoples decisions what they watch and of course we were concerned when there was negative publicity around our sport, but pleasingly our fans have been really engaged with the football this season,» NRL chief commercial officer Andrew Abdo said.
«The games have done the talking. That’s been a real positive for us.
«It’s a testament to both the entertaining games we’ve had and the job that our broadcast partners have been doing in terms of producing the games. It’s obviously critical for us to get off to a strong start for the first six or seven rounds of the year because it sets you up for the rest of the year.
«We’ve had the Easter and Anzac rounds which are really important for our fans. We expect these strong ratings to hold for the remainder of the season.»
While it’s far more difficult to accurately measure the numbers tuning into streaming platforms, the NRL hailed the growth in minutes being watched on Nine Now, Kayo Sports and NRL Live Pass.
The NRL is poised to enjoy one of its highest-rating rounds in years with a number of mouth-watering rivalries, highlighted by Wayne Bennett’s Rabbitohs and Anthony Seibold’s Broncos matching wits on Thursday night.
The 2016 grand finalists Melbourne and Cronulla will face off on Friday night at PointsBet Stadium before Des Hasler takes on the Bulldogs for the first time since his ugly exit from Belmore.
Traditional rivals the Dragons and Eels will cap the weekend in a blockbuster at the new $360 million Bankwest Stadium on Sunday afternoon before the NRL caravan rolls into Brisbane for Magic Round.
All eight matches will be played at Suncorp Stadium across four days, replicating the English Super League concept which has proved a raging success.
«It’s new and untested and difficult to pick,» Abdo said of predicted TV audiences for Magic Round. «We expect a really strong crowd on Friday and Saturday, but from a TV perspective I’m cautiously optimistic because it’s new.
«The match-ups themselves are great and hopefully it can attract some of the more marginal fans watching every team play at Suncorp Stadium.»
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.