Rugby league has broken new ratings ground in its first 80 minutes of on-field action after what CEO Todd Greenberg had conceded was a "train wreck" of an off-season, with the NRL's largest combined TV audience tuning in for Thursday's season opener.
Melbourne's 22-12 defeat of Brisbane was watched by 1.18 million viewers on free-to-air and subscription TV, trumping any 2018 regular-season fixture.
With both Fox Sports and Channel Nine broadcasting the clash, the NRL heavyweights eclipsed last year's regular season record audience of 1.12 million by just over six per cent.
The Broncos also figured in that high-water mark, last year's corresponding round one match against the Dragons.
Just under 850,000 viewers tuned into Channel Nine's coverage of the Storm's win, with another 333,895 watching on Fox Sports – who enjoyed a 27 per cent ratings increase on last year's season opener.
NRL.com also enjoyed a landmark moment in the hours leading into the season kick-off, registering 1 million NRL Account holders for the first time.
A healthy 16,239-strong crowd packed into AAMI Park for the Storm-Broncos match, while Sunday's western Sydney Penrith-Parramatta derby at Panthers Stadium will go close to selling out.
Similar hopes are also held for Manly's trip to Leichhardt Oval to face Wests Tigers on Saturday, while 25,000 are expected to turn out for the Knights' first home outing against Cronulla in Newcastle, weather permitting on Friday night.
Strong responses across broadcast and digital platforms combined with crowd attendances fly in the face of a scandal-plagued summer that was dubbed a "train wreck" by NRL CEO Todd Greenberg.
A spate of off-field behaviour incidents had fuelled fears of fans turning away from the game and tuning out.