The NRL is set to reduce the amount of Friday night double-headers in next year’s schedule and add a third Sunday game in the latest overhaul of the competition structure.
After years of clubs struggling to draw crowds to the Friday 6pm kick-off, the NRL is in the advanced stages of working on a draw which will remove the timeslot from several rounds in a 17-team competition.
According to sources familiar with the situation, the NRL has discussed a proposal which will scrap the early Friday kick-off in rounds directly following each State of Origin match and replace it with a Sunday night fixture.
It will allow the NRL to have up to three matches on Sundays, with the last fixture proving a ratings hit on Fox League when it was used for the first five weeks this season.
While the NRL won’t completely abolish the first of two Friday night games, executives have discussed Sunday night being a more fan-friendly window, particularly for matches played in Sydney and Brisbane when fans struggle to get to venues at the end of the working week.
The change will also help alleviate concerns from the Rugby League Players Association, which has lobbied for all NSW and Queensland players to have a mandatory stand-down period after Origin matches.
Penrith co-captain Isaah Yeo scores in a Friday 6pm match against the Warriors.Credit:Getty
All three interstate fixtures will return to Wednesday nights in 2023 under the new television rights deal with Nine Entertainment Co, the publisher of this masthead.
The issue of representative players potentially missing club games straight after Origin matches is set to be finalised during ongoing talks between the players’ union, clubs and the NRL over a collective bargaining agreement, which has dragged on into grand final week.
But the switch of a Friday night game to Sunday night will mean players from at least two teams will have an extra 48 hours to recover from the gruelling Origin contests.
Foxtel has had exclusive rights to the early Friday night kick-off and often captures a market which will stay with the subscription provider for the second match, which is also broadcast by Nine on its free-to-air platform.
The NRL is planning for next year’s 27-round season to start on March 2, a week earlier than usual, in a radical change first revealed by the Herald.
The longest NRL season in history will also include each club being allocated three byes across the course of the campaign, with a concentration of those around the Origin period.
The NRL has still not given up hope of starting the competition proper in the United States in a match which would feature Manly, but is running out of time to organise the logistics and tap into the growing and lucrative American sports betting market.
The introduction of the Dolphins to the competition will also create the need for at least one team to have a bye each week, including Magic Round in Brisbane.
Wayne Bennett’s Dolphins have been guaranteed a spot in the three-day festival, which brings together all 16 teams to one location, and is being discussed by the AFL as it plans to add an extra round to its season in 2023.
Stream the NRL Premiership 2022 live and free on 9Now.
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