Sam Burgess could make a prime-turn return to the NRL next season as Sonny Bill Williams did in 2013 in a sure-fire ratings winner for the Nine Network.
A record TV audience of almost a million fans watched Williams’ return to rugby league in the 2013 season-opener between the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney.
The match also drew the biggest stand-alone round-one crowd in Sydney of 35,952 to Allianz Stadium on Thursday March 7 of that year.
That success could be replicated by Nine and the NRL for the opening match of the 2016 season.
Nine are said to have already pencilled in a Thursday night match in early March in Townsville to kick off the new season and North Queensland’s premiership defence.
That might now come against Burgess’ Rabbitohs as the dual international returns to the 13-a-side code after a season playing rugby union in England.
Another option is for the Rabbitohs to host bitter rivals the Roosters at ANZ Stadium on the first Friday night of the new season.
Either way, the return of Burgess is sure to pique interest in the start of the new season as Williams’ comeback did two years ago before the dual Rugby World Cup-winning All Black helped deliver the 2013 NRL title to Bondi.
Ironically, Williams and Burgess clashed heavily in that season-opener back in 2013, in one of the highlights of the first round.
The schedule for 2016 is being negotiated between the NRL and its broadcast partners Nine and Fox Sports. The negotiations come at a sensitive time for all parties with the NRL looking for a new chief executive, Fox Sports still upset at their treatment in dealings over the new broadcast arrangement and league lover David Gyngell having left Channel Nine on Monday as its CEO.
Gyngell was a key figure in securing Nine’s $925 million deal for the free-to-air broadcast rights for seasons 2018-2022 that has put Fox Sports offside.
Those negotiations are expected to take some time though, with a NRL spokesman telling AAP the draw for next season won’t be officially released until next month.