GAME FACE: Anthony Minichiello speaks during the 2014 NRL season launch last night. Picture: Getty ImagesCHIEF executive Dave Smith said the NRL had enjoyed the strongest lead-in to a season in recent memory as he launched the rugby league year last night.
After the success of the inaugural Auckland Nines this month and the announcement of a profit of almost $50million for the 2013 financial year, Smith and his executive teams are bullish heading into 2014.
At the season launch at the Sydney Convention Centre at Glebe Island in Sydney, Smith said the code had every reason to be.
‘‘The Nines has been the highlight of a terrific pre-season for the NRL,’’ Smith said in his address.
‘‘A pre-season which saw the fierce but friendly rivalry between traditional foes, in both the Charity Shield and the World Club Challenge, where the Roosters again established that the world’s best club side comes from Australia.
‘‘On top of this, the NRL has delivered its strongest financial performance on record and set out a clear strategy for the future.
‘‘It’s been an amazing few weeks. The best pre-season in many years. One to whet the appetite of all of our members and fans. The 2014 season is going to be bigger and better than ever.’’
The NRL aims to double club membership to 400,000 by 2017 and grow average crowds to 20,000 over the same period. It invited 600 fans representing all 16 clubs to the launch.
Sydney Roosters captain Anthony Minichiello was anointed the face of the game for 2014 and launched the new season.
The tricolours will attempt to be the first side to win back-to-back first-grade titles in a unified competition since Brisbane in 1992-93.
‘‘Even though a ball hasn’t been kicked, we already have plenty to celebrate,’’ Minichiello said.
‘‘The footy gets more exciting every season.
‘‘The skill and power of the players today is amazing and the coverage on TV is the best in the world.
‘‘The room tonight is full of players, coaches, referees, sponsors, media, NRL and club officials and, of course, our members and fans, and everyone here tonight is talking about the footy and what we think, hope and dream will happen this season. That’s what’s so special about our game.’’
The NRL season starts on Thursday next week when defending premiers the Roosters play bitter arch rivals South Sydney.
● Clive Palmer hopes Queensland’s decision to leave his Coolum resort won’t put the hex on their long State of Origin winning streak.
In the latest blow for the Palmer Resort, the Queensland Rugby League will shift the Maroons training base from Coolum to the Gold Coast.
The Maroons have used the golf and beach resort at Coolum for the past five years as they have stretched their stranglehold on the Origin title to eight series.
‘‘I hope it’s a good move for them,’’ Palmer said at Parliament House in Canberra.
‘‘They’ve only won the State of Origin every year they’ve been there.
‘‘I hope it’s not the end of Queensland’s winning streak.
The Maroons, now sizing up Royal Pines or the more luxurious Sanctuary Cove, last held their pre-Origin camp on the Gold Coast in 2008.
The Palmer Resort, which has a roaring mechanical T-Rex dinosaur on its golf course, last year lost the Australian PGA Championship to Royal Pines.
About 90 staff were laid off at the resort this month.
The independent MP bought the resort from the Hyatt Regency group in 2011 for a reported $80million.
The Coolum facility had transformed its driving range into a rugby league field so Mal Meninga’s team could prepare before all three Origin matches each year.
Palmer said the QRL didn’t want to pay the same amount it had previously and had asked for a bigger discount.
‘‘People have got the right to choose where they go,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not national news when someone doesn’t make a hotel booking.’’