The NRL’s radical new blueprint for the future, unveiled by Head of Strategy Shane Richardson on Tuesday, contained several key points that should have players and supporters alike rejoicing – and a clutch of elements that have left clubs and fans fuming.
Here are the positives and negatives we can take away from the League’s proposed new direction:
It’s one of the biggest hot-button issues in the game today – particularly from the playing group’s perspective – and the NRL has taken some proactive, but not over-the-top, steps to ease the burden on the code’s ‘burnt out’ players. Increasing squad sizes from 30 to 36 will give coaches more scope to rest certain players and hopefully ease the second-tier salary-cap issues that have gripped injury-hit clubs in recent years.
Daly Cherry-Evans’ farcical back-flip was the tipping point for scrapping the ridiculous ‘Round 13 rule’ and it seems the extraordinary merry-go-round involving Peta Hiku, Dylan Walker, James Roberts and Tim Lafai in recent weeks has hastened the belated introduction of a dedicated end-of-season transfer window. It will take a lot of tweaking to get right – after all, most players would prefer to have their next destination sorted well before the end of the current season – but it would be a huge step in the right direction.
The likely inclusion of teams from the Pacific and New Zealand in the revamped Under-20s and State Leagues (or ‘Platinum League’, as it will soon be known) will create unprecedented pathways for young players in those regions, instead of merely funnelling the cream of the crop to NRL clubs. The staging of a higher-quality and higher-profile games in areas such as Canterbury (NZ) will provide a much-needed boost for rugby league at grassroots level.
Christchurch NSW Cup team backers rapt with NRL expansion blueprint https://t.co/uFaI0FcsPV
— Anna (@spannaforce) December 16, 2015
The low priority given to international football has been one of the NRL’s and ARL’s most grotesque failings in recent years, but the revisiting of three-match series between old enemies Australia and England would be a refreshingly positive step. Four Nations tournaments and World Cups still have their place, but Test series – as State of Origin has consistently shown – foster that truly tribal aspect of representative football.
Plenty of consideration and research has gone into the proposed change that would prevent players under of the age of 19 from playing first grade, with the spate of tragic suicides of emerging players in recent years at the crux of the issue. While there are few more important problems confronting the game at present, it is highly doubtful that this sweeping amendment is the right path to take.
The most gifted young athletes may be lost to the code if their earning potential and prospects of playing at the top level are held back. The likes of Brad Fittler, Israel Folau, Sione Mata’utia, Mitchell Pearce, Will Hopoate, Darren Lockyer, Jarryd Hayne and Jason Taumololo all debuted at 17 or 18, with most playing rep footy while still teenagers. Each individual is different, and more needs to be done from a one-on-one perspective; this restriction may prove to be more damaging to the game as a whole.
Whichever way the NRL tries to sell it, there’s no hiding the fact that the establishment has made Test football a low priority by jamming it in at the end of the season. Scrapping the mid-season Test only accentuates the general feeling that Origin is the pinnacle from a representative point of view, while the disdain shown for international development is an insult to the world’s current No.1 nation, New Zealand, whose governing body is severely cash-strapped due to their Australian counterparts’ greed and selfish direction. The likelihood of the Kangaroos not playing the Kiwis on New Zealand soil between the 2014 Four Nations final and the 2017 World Cup (and even that’s no guarantee) is a disgrace.
One way or the other, the NRL should have outlined its stance on whether expanding the premiership to 18 clubs is still on the agenda. Instead, bid teams in Brisbane, Ipswich, Gosford, Perth, Rockhampton, Wellington and Papua New Guinea are once again left wondering whether they’re wasting their time. Hopefully the League is a little more transparent to the budding clubs behind closed doors, but the addition of two new teams – therefore creating an extra game every weekend – seems like a no-brainer. If the strategy is to relocate or rationalise the number of clubs in Sydney, then the NRL should have the balls to come out and float the idea to the public now.
— 7 News Sydney (@7NewsSydney) December 15, 2015
Death of the NYC
Scrapping the widely-criticised NYC premiership in its current format may be a huge cost-saver, but restructuring the Under-20s competition to a state-based format opens up a complex situation for NRL clubs. With that direct pathway closed, some clubs will be reticent to spend their time and money on developing young players that may be lost to them – particularly if the proposed rookie draft eventuates. Like the age restriction scheme, if this is not implemented astutely it could leave rugby league ripe for the picking for rival codes.