The NRL have set themselves the near-impossible task of fighting with the AFL grand final for viewers and ratings in Melbourne, with the Storm to play on the same night.
The league confirmed their draw for weeks two and three of the finals on Sunday night, with Mackay to host week two and Suncorp Stadium week three.
Manly will face Sydney Roosters in Friday night’s semi-final, while Penrith take on arch-rivals Parramatta in the second semi-final on the Saturday.
But it is in the following week where the NRL has raised eyebrows.
The Storm’s preliminary final against the winner between the Panthers and Eels will kick off at 7:45pm, just 35 minutes after first bounce in the AFL grand final.
Making matters more difficult for the NRL, the AFL decider is between two Melbourne teams in Western Bulldogs and the Demons.
While the AFL grand final is traditionally an afternoon affair at the MCG, the 2021 decider is being played in Perth due to COVID-19 and starts at 5.15pm local time, meaning it will be in evening prime time on the east coast.
The Demons in particular are a fairytale story, pursuing their first flag in 57 years.
Last year’s AFL grand final rated 1,583,000 in Melbourne, compared to 87,000 on free-to-air for the Storm’s 2020 preliminary final against Canberra in the same month.
Fox League’s numbers in Melbourne for the Storm’s preliminary final are unavailable, but it did rate 333,000 nationally.
The NRL have little choice but to schedule the week-three games in the order they have due to turnarounds.
They are forced to play Parramatta and Penrith on Saturday and not Friday in week two, otherwise the Eels would not have six days between games.
Both winners from week two are then afforded a seven-day turnaround into week three, meaning the Melbourne match must be played on the Saturday.
Had the NRL played the the Storm-Sea Eagles game on Saturday in week one of the finals, the TV clash could have been avoided assuming Melbourne won through as favourites.
Likewise, the league could have opted to play the preliminary final in an afternoon timeslot on the Saturday to avoid a clash.
But they have instead opted to take it head on, risking a hit to their own ratings in the process.