State of Origin to return to winter timeslot in 2021 following disappointing TV ratings

Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys says the State of Origin is likely to return to a mid-season timeslot in 2021, with the league hoping the series regains its significant TV audience.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the ARLC to stage the three State of Origin matches across consecutive weeks this month, the first time the series has been played following an NRL season.

The annual series between New South Wales and Queensland has previously begun in late May or early June, and concluded in July.

Prior to last Wednesday night’s State of Origin I in Adelaide, the ARLC hinted it would consider moving the series to the end of the NRL season on a permanent basis if TV ratings and the public response were favourable.

But the opening match attracted disappointing TV ratings, despite them being traditionally strong.

The series is also featuring capped crowds at the three venues because of COVID-19 restrictions.

V’landys, speaking ahead of Wednesday night’s State of Origin II in Sydney, said he expected the series would be played mid-season next year.

“[It’s] more likely that this will be the one and only time because the ratings weren’t very good,” he told SEN Radio.

“I know there have been a few excuses, and we will see if those excuses are credible come Wednesday night (State of Origin II) when it’s a live rubber.”

The Nine Network’s State of Origin I coverage attracted a national average TV audience of 2.38 million viewers, which was about 25 per cent down on the figure for last year’s series opener.

It was also the lowest figure since they were first recorded in 2003.

The Australian Rugby League chairman speaks at an NRL media conference.The Australian Rugby League chairman speaks at an NRL media conference.
Peter V’landys said the ARLC had no option other than to play State of Origin in November.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

V’landys said a reason why TV viewers did not tune in last Wednesday night in the same numbers as previous years might have been because the Maroons were considered to have little chance of defeating the Blues.

Injuries to key players meant the Maroons fielded an understrength squad, yet they caused an upset by winning 18-14.

“I think one of the reasons the ratings were down is that nobody gave Queensland a chance,” V’landys said.

V’landys said State of Origin II would give the ARLC a better idea of when it should schedule the series next season.

“We’ll see what happens tomorrow night,” he said.

“If the ratings are substantial … then we will make an informed decision.”

V’landys said he was hopeful a crowd of about 40,000 spectators would attend the second match of the series at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.