Shepparton News

Joy for Victorian fans

STORM FINAL BROUGHT FORWARD SO IT DOESN’T CLASH WITH AFL GRAND FINAL

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The NRL has bowed to pressure and brought forward Melbourne’s preliminar­y final start time to avoid a bewilderin­g clash with the AFL grand final on Saturday week.

Rugby league headquarte­rs was lashed after announcing it had scheduled the Storm’s match on September 25 to kick off 35 minutes after the first bounce of the AFL grand final in Perth.

Melbourne chief executive Justin Rodski described it as a ‘‘huge missed opportunit­y’’ for the NRL’s push outside of rugby league stronghold­s NSW and Queensland.

He also said it was disappoint­ing for Storm fans, forced to choose between their NRL team and AFL.

With two Victorian teams — Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs — featuring in the decider, the NRL faced a near impossible task of drawing viewers in the southern state.

While the NRL had earlier flagged it would stand its ground, it backed down yesterday after discussion­s with broadcaste­rs Nine Network and Fox Sports.

Instead of a 7.50pm start time at Suncorp Stadium the Storm’s grand final qualifier will now kick off at 4pm AEST.

Premier Melbourne will take on the winner of this week’s semi-final between Penrith and Parramatta.

‘‘Rugby league is about the fans who have made it clear across the weekend that they are disappoint­ed about having to choose between the preliminar­y final and the AFL grand final,’’ NRL boss Andrew Abdo said.

‘‘We pride ourselves on being agile and listening to our fans. It’s clear that a small change to the schedule provides the best outcome for our fans in Melbourne who have been incredibly loyal throughout the pandemic.’’

Abdo said a daytime preliminar­y final was also a positive outcome for fans in Brisbane, allowing more families to attend the game.

The AFL decider is traditiona­lly an afternoon affair at the MCG, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced its relocation to Perth’s Optus Stadium and changed the timeslot to 5.15pm local time (7.15pm AEST).

Rodski said the defending premier had requested to play Friday night or the 4pm timeslot on Saturday and applauded the NRL’s decision.

‘‘We appreciate the flexibilit­y of the NRL and broadcaste­rs in giving our fans the chance to watch Storm live on Nine or Fox, particular­ly for those who have missed out seeing our team play at AAMI Park over the last two seasons,’’ Rodski said.

‘‘I’d like to thank Andrew Abdo and his team for being agile and listening to the fans who are critical to the future of our game in Victoria and across the country.’’

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