The NRL is just weeks away from finalising the 2020 draw and has ruled out a move away from full season scheduling after a request from Channel Nine to broadcast Sunday’s sold-out Wests Tigers-Cronulla match at Leichhardt Oval.
Nine executives are understood to have phoned senior NRL management on Sunday night wanting to swap the 4pm Penrith-Newcastle game with the earlier Tigers-Sharks clash as Round 24 results have ensured it is a virtual play-off for a place in the finals.
However, Fox Sports was allocated the match almost 12 months ago and is unwilling to surrender it to the free-to-air broadcaster.
NRL head of football Graham Annesley said he hadn’t been involved in the discussions but insisted there would be no change to the draw which was announced on October 25 last year.
Annesley said the NRL was working towards releasing the 2020 draw about the same time this year and would not revert to a previous scheduling agreement which enabled broadcasters to select matches in the final six weeks of the season.
“We have got a current broadcasting agreement that is in place and it dictates what the scheduling priorities are,” Annesley said. “The games have been scheduled for next weekend in compliance with that agreement.
Graham Annesley weekly football briefing - Round 24
“When these selections are made no one knows whether these teams would be at the top of the ladder or the bottom of the ladder, or whether they are fighting for the eight. That’s the luck of the draw. It was decided over 12 months ago. It could have easily fallen the other way to Nine.
“Fans were always saying they needed full-season scheduling so they could make travel arrangements to support their clubs so unfortunately we can’t have it all ways.”
The NRL moved to full-season scheduling under the current five-year broadcast deal, which began last season and runs until 2022.
Previously, the broadcasters had traded picks – initially five weeks in advance of each round and then for the first 19 rounds before the start of the season and waiting until the last six rounds to consider which teams were in finals contention.
Under the terms of the current agreement, the NRL decides on the scheduling of matches each weekend based on a minimum five-day turnaround for teams, travel, venue availability, historical television ratings and requests from clubs and the game’s broadcast partners.
“It’s a combination of contractual requirements, commercial arrangements and us trying to do whatever we can to try and help clubs as much as possible but it takes several months to produce a draw,” Annesley said.
“I can’t do anything about existing broadcasting agreements that are in place and that is a matter that is out of my hands in terms of future negotiations on broadcast.
“But the over-riding effect is that probably some time in October the NRL will be delivering a full-season draw for the 2020 season.”