Peter Jessup: Thrilling spectacles belie NRL crisis

By Peter Jessup

You'd hardly think the NRL was in crisis after a weekend that produced the game of the season and bumper crowds that enjoyed three games which were level going into the last minutes plus two 12-man wins.

But club chief executives will meet in Sydney later this month to address concerns about falling revenue, poker machine taxes and club grants, the player drain to Super League, the incursion by Aussie Rules into traditional league territory in west Sydney and a plan for the future combating all these.

The Broncos and Eels produced a stunner at Suncorp Stadium, the game that had everything, played at a frenetic pace. Two injury returnees starred, Broncos skipper Darren Lockyer playing the first 20 minutes and the last in comeback after knee trouble and producing the match-winning try in the dying seconds with a long ball to wing Denan Kemp.

Kemp signed for the Warriors mid-week and celebrated with four touchdowns against Parramatta, showing his toughness to carry on after copping an elbow that left him bleeding from the nose and mouth first half. Eels benchman Brendan Oake is on report for that and will likely be charged.

Also due for trips to the judiciary are Eels wing Jarryd Hayne who dumped Tonie Carroll dangerously and Broncos centre Justin Hodges who threw Mark Riddell on his head, the hooker leaving the field first half but coming back after the break.

Both Hayne and Hodges may miss State of Origin II on Wednesday week.

Kiwis fullback Krisnan Inu was outstanding for Parramatta, scoring two late tries to close an 18-26 lead before Kemp's sideline winner.

In new coach Ian Millward's first game in charge in Townsville, Luke O'Donnell was sent off for using an elbow to lead into a tackle and three brawls marked a sometimes spiteful game. It finished after 88 minutes when Jarrod Sammut slotted his third field-goal attempt for a 19-18 win in overtime.

Penrith took an early lead, the Cowboys came back to 12-all, then Panthers centre Michael Jennings plucked a loose pass and went 100m to score with minutes remaining. The Cowboys forced a goal-line drop-out with two minutes to go and Ben Harris was held up over the line on the left side before Ash Graham got across down the right, first-time referee Alan Shortall sending the decision upstairs to veteran Bill Harrigan, who referred it back to Shortall as "ref's call". He made the home fans happy, then Sammut sent them home losers.

The Eagles won 31-18 in Canberra despite losing bench forward Adam Cuthbertson who was sent off prior to the break for a high shot on Troy Thompson. Eagles halfback Matt Orford controlled that game.

The Storm had far too much class for an injury-depleted Bulldogs side in Melbourne, running out 46-0 winners.

Ten of the 16 teams are enjoying an increase in average crowds this season as opposed to 2007, the struggling Cowboys and Panthers static, the Broncos, Tigers, Manly and Warriors down. Rising costs including that of the under-20s Toyota Cup are swallowing increases in gate receipts and more.

The Auckland club attracted an average 13,225 in 2007 and is drawing 12,510 in 2008, though last year's figure got a boost with near full houses as they ran into the playoffs. The win in Newcastle showed a similar turnaround is possible.

- NZ Herald

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