By the time this goes to print the NRL will have played its first match back in the return to the 2020 season.
The Broncos and the Eels. It's a victory, of sorts, for the NRL - being our first major sport to get itself back on the field - but it's a somewhat pyrrhic one. I mean, what do we have?
Games played in front of no-one and a compromised draw, the nature of which has, in no small part, been dictated to by the broadcasters who are able to decide these things because they're the ones funding the show.
The resulting scheduling gives considerable advantages and disadvantages across an already problematic terrain, and combined with the substantial differences in travel requirements and living arrangements between the clubs, according to their individual associations with the limited amount of stadiums able to be utilised, it makes for a very uneven competition.
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Is there an advantage to a home game with no supporters in the stands? Who knows. The League is trying to fix the lack of atmosphere by allowing punters to buy cardboard cutouts of themselves which will occupy the empty seats. $22 a pop.
I'm not sure if this is a stroke of genius or utterly ridiculous, but I doubt whether a bunch of silent, stationary cardboard avatars in club beanies and scarfs are going to provide much hometown motivational zeal for the players. Still, you never know ...
We're back to one ref, which is good. But we've also got a new rule whereby the attacking side are given an extra six upon any infringement in the ruck. It seems a strange one to lob on us, out of the blue.
I don't think these excessive arbitrary rule changes are doing the game any good at all, and this one has barely been tested. I suppose the impact will depend on how vigorously it is enforced, and any rule whose effectiveness depends upon whether the referee enforces it or not is, to me, inherently flawed.
The rule change is, in reality, an unsubtle patch for the actual problem, which is very simple and one I've been talking about for years: Ten metres is simply undefendable; you just can't get onside without slowing down the play-the-ball somehow. Go back to the old five metres and we'll get better football and we won't need these Mickey Mouse fixes.
And then we get a drug scandal to boot: a timely bit of football misbehaviour which is more than intriguing on a variety of fronts, the first question being, was he stupid or just unlucky?
It strains credulity, if the NRL drug testing process is as rigorous as we are led to believe, that a player would take these drugs - keeping in mind here that the substances Xerri has tested positive for are not things that will be able to be explained away as having been accidentally consumed in a supplement pill or some such.
You would think that a player behaving this way - knowing he'll be tested and doping anyway - must be lacking the mental dexterity required to lace on his boots.
Otherwise, the more likely scenario is that he is able to lace his boots and that he thought he could get away with it. And if that's what he's thinking - that he can do it and get away with it - then you'd have to assume that the reason he's thinking he can do it and get away with it is because other players are doing it and getting away with it, in which case we have a serious problem.
The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that it was quite a complex combination of stuff they found running around Xerri's system. Xerri is only 19 years old. It seems unlikely that such a young man would, under his own initiative, have access to such a sophisticated blend of performance enhancers.
Cronulla has been busy deflecting the crisis by asking questions of ASADA (Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority). The interesting thing here is that even though Cronulla, with their queries, are transparently attempting to shift the focus away from the trouble at their club, the questions they are asking of the doping authority are entirely pertinent.
Xerri was tested in November last year. Six months ago. Why is this coming out now? If the results take so long to process and we hadn't had this lockdown situation he could have played half a season by now. That makes a mockery of the whole process.
And again on the timing. Why announce now? A positive test from six months ago is sat on and then flamboyantly announced two days before this troubled resumption of the comp?
It reeks of some form of contrivance on the behalf of ASADA, the motives of which are, at this distance, impossible to ascertain. It's all very weird.
SORRY STATE OF AFFAIRS
I have been to three AFL grand finals. I've always loved Aussie Rules; it was actually the first of the football codes I played. I've been to some of the largest sporting events in the world but nothing, nothing, has ever compared to an AFL grand final - not even the incredible league grand finals I've borne witness to.
There's just something about the AFL grand final: The atmosphere; the ground packed to the rafters... and it happens, at the MCG, on a Saturday afternoon, every year. Tradition.
They're moving the Caulfield Cup. They're citing a bunch of reasons, but everybody knows it's because of the Everest. It's a disturbing trend, when a cashed-up blow-in forces such a change in things.
The NRL grand final was always played at the SCG on Sunday afternoon. This is precisely where and when that clash should occur. Such certainty exists no longer - twilight games, night games, changes of venue. Who knows how it will go down this year?
But the AFL, to their credit, have always stuck to their guns and resisted such whimsy. Until now.
Current circumstances have created a situation where the AFL grand final and the Cox Plate are scheduled to occur on the same day. The broadcasters have decreed that such events may not occur simultaneously and, at this stage, it is looking like the AFL will be forced to defer to the horse racing and move their 2020 grand final into the night.
The broadcasters anticipate better viewing figures with the night game, so, having moved once (assuming they do) it will be unlikely the AFL will be be able to go back to their afternoon grand finals. Another break from a beautiful sporting tradition.
It's a sad state of affairs.