ARU needs to work with, not around, the core of Rugby
Club Rugby

ARU needs to work with, not around, the core of Rugby

ARU needs to work with, not around, the core of Rugby

Yesterday Hugh Cavill put forward the argument that the Sydney Premier clubs neither deserve nor need ARU funding. From me today you’ll hear why they should, although it will be with fewer words – partly because Hugh used up our allowance yesterday, and partly because it’s actually pretty simple.

As a disclaimer, Like Hugh I didn’t play for a Shute club. However, unlike Hugh I didn’t play my club rugby in Australia at all. So for me, the bias of “my club never got funding, why should the Shute”, can never enter my thinking.

Do they deserve funding?

The rugby development pathway in Australia is a chain – from juniors, through school, into club then NRC onto Super Rugby and the Wallabies. While there are a few smaller but important side linkages – like the U20s and sevens programmes – none of these have the strength to hold the system in place like the Shute Shield clubs do and have done for many years.

The simplest test for this is that if you were to remove the Shute clubs, not only would the sizeable chain link of the Sydney Club competition disappear, half of the NRC would also vaporise overnight, as four of the NRC teams are run by the Shute clubs. Even more Shute players make up the the other NRC teams.

Team Licencees and associated clubs
Brisbane City QRU / Reds
Greater Sydney Rams West Harbour, Penrith, Parramatta, Southern Districts
Melbourne Rising VRU / Rebels
NSW Country Eagles Easts, Randwick
North Harbour Rays Manly, Warringah, Gordon, Norths
Perth Spirit WA / Force
Queensland Country QRU / Reds
Sydney Stars Sydney University, Balmain
University of Canberra Vikings ACT&SNSWRU / Brumbies, University of Canberra, Tuggeranong Vikings

We would then have a system where the ‘great unwashed’ (god love us) played social subbies rugby – there would be a massive gap – and then Super Rugby EPS squads. The route to those EPS squads would be through development officers picking kids from school together with the handfuls who make it through the U20s. For the player who isn’t a child prodigy (or is just 7th best in the country at the time), goodbye.  There’s no week in, week out training, competing and learning from those who’ve done it at a high, if not top, level which will enable you to grow and progress.

If you think Aussie rugby is elitist and over-blessed with schoolboy prima-donnas now, wait till you get a load of that. Our small talent player base becomes tiny.

Hugh and others’ argument is ‘that’s just a sign of the times’ for rugby in Australia, ‘but at least we’ll have sevens and viva7s’ (touch rugby). This is thinking of criminal neglect.  Do not confuse for a minute the appeal that a once a year carnival or touch rugby provides with what’s required to succeed as a system in the only form of the game that really counts – 15s. Sevens is not just a shorter form of the game (like T20 is to cricket), it’s a different game altogether.

When it comes to measuring the real health of rugby in Australia therefore, don’t get sucked into the consultant’s accounting trick of thinking that someone trying Viva7s is the same as a prop rising through the grades of a club. No two forms could be more different.

Do they need funding?


In 2015 Manly, a Shute club smack in the heart of traditional Sydney rugby country, had a cracking year. They made the grand final and had record crowds. They also recorded a loss of $86,000. Manly has an asset base (or is in the black to the tune) of $100,000 so this can’t go on for long.  They’re not alone, Randwick also lost in the region of $100k. I haven’t done everyone’s books, but this is a common story.

Why? Against a backdrop of declining player numbers (subscriptions) that all of grass roots rugby is feeling, the Shute clubs have also picked up the running of half the NRC (cost) and had to shorten their season around it; they are now finishing in August and therefore have less product.

At the same time, this NRC has relegated Shute from being the 3rd tier, to the 4th tier in Australian rugby, meaning that the ever elusive sponsorship dollars have become even harder to find in a slowing economy. Perhaps their stakes in the NRC teams will pay off at some future point for clubs in this regard, but in the meantime they have a smaller share of a shrunken pie.

The margins are small but deadly for these clubs who are swimming against a tide.

Can the ARU afford it?

Before 2014, the ARU had deemed it important enough to subsidise Shute clubs to the tune of $100k per year each. That dropped to $30k/club in 2014, and then nothing, on the pleading that the ARU was broke.

According to their 5 year plan starting in 2016, the ARU will spend an extra $25 million over 2015. $15.5 million extra will go to ‘professional rugby’ (to take the spend from $44.8M to $60.3M), an extra $5.4 million will go to “community rugby” and as is well publicised, none will go to this link in the pathway that nurtures in some way an estimated 65% of pro rugby players in Australia.

ARU spend 2015 to 2016

From the ARU 5 Year Plan – note the different scales on the vertical axes

These Shute clubs are a resource that the ARU cannot afford (in the dollar and cents sense) to alienate or lose. The Shute clubs raise and spend $9 million/year working off the smell of oily rags and volunteers. Multiply that $9 million several fold for the ARU to step in and somehow replicate it with their own employees. In this scenario, not only would the passion that drives the system evaporate, it’s very easy to imagine the bloated bureaucratic white elephant that would evolve, only to need dismantling in the next ARU financial downturn.

What this is really about

On the face of it, it’s about money (see above). But it runs deeper than that, into the emotionally charged values of control and respect.

As a case in point, when the ARU was on its knees and Foxtel was barely televising NRC on pay TV, the Shute clubs funded the only free to air rugby in Australia.  The cost of this to the clubs is in the ballpark of $300k. The ARU have mooted that they would take over the funding of this arrangement, but what the clubs want to know is who then controls it – the sponsorship, the timings, the rights?

Similarly the ARU has mooted a sizeable figure to go into the development of rugby in western Sydney. Right now there are two Shute clubs – Penrith and Parramatta – working hard smack bang in the middle of that catchment area. Why wouldn’t that money go through those clubs (with help and oversight, of course)?

Both of these are examples of control – the clubs feel that when they were broke the ARU were happy to cut funding and come to the clubs for help, but now  the coffers are filling again it’s time to cut out the clubs altogether because the clubs would merely “piss it up against the wall”. It is this lack of respect that incensed the clubs, and evoked emotional responses from their leaders.

While we’ve heard from the Shute clubs about this lack of respect through the media, they’re not alone. The Brisbane Premiership clubs are reportedly also filthy and I’ve seen correspondence from GPS school headmasters talking of the exact same experience with the ARU. Yes, we all want to see rugby grow and evolve, but as any politician will tell you – don’t lose your base – and like it or not, that’s exactly who these groups are to Australian rugby.

Come 2021, the report that ‘our 15’s playing stocks have collapsed but it’s all right because Viva7s is going gangbusters’ won’t cut any ice. The newly cashed up ARU needs to stop planning how they can work around or replace the core of our game, and figure out how they work with it.

  • Hugh Cavill

    Good article Matt. I agree with your end conclusion – the ARU certainly needs to work more closely with the base (clubs, schools etc).

    The issue of money is where I have disagreements, of course. My question to you is this – if funding was restored, what would clubs be spending the money on? This is the one thing we haven’t had explained from this side of the argument. Why do they need ARU money?

    And this is the elephant in the room, because a big chunk of it would end up in the pockets of first graders. They would be used in recruitment, on flights for players from overseas, and helping the first grade side win the Premiership. Now in and of itself that’s fine, and certainly isn’t breaking any rules. But is that the best use of ARU funds?

    If the clubs came out and said ‘this money will go straight to development’ then the debate would take a very different course. If it goes towards gym infrastructure, better coaching, scrum machines, and things that aid up-and-coming colts as much as first graders then we’ve got something the ARU should be interested in.

    But they haven’t. In Papworth’s second post he basically acknowledges the need to compete in the ‘arms race’ with Uni, with the implication that player payments are the only way they can keep players at the club. This is where the talk of ‘grassroots’ and ‘volunteers’ and ‘true spirit of the game’ fall down- blokes are taking home $200-$300 a game (plus a signing bonus) while clubs fall further into the red.

    • It wouldn’t be difficult to make sure that money didn’t go into player payments if it’s a problem. That’s not a good enough reason not to fund at all though and it doesn’t mean they don’t warrant or need the funding in the first place.

      This is the bit that sounds like “I didn’t get boot money, why should they”. Forms of player payments have been around forever and are just part of what it takes when you’re trying to make it possible for a ‘semi-pro’ situation to work, especially when you’re competing against league and AFL in the same market

      • Braveheart81

        If the ARU funding goes up, do the player payments just go up accordingly?

        It’s also impossible to make it so any external funding can’t become player payments unless you got rid of them altogether. Unless an ARU grant went to building/buying some infrastructure that couldn’t otherwise be purchased, it would just be general revenue and increase the amount available for paying players.

        Can the ARU afford to give $100k a year to each Shute Shield/Premier Rugby Club? Whilst NSW and Qld are the dominant forces in Australian rugby, how does that compare to the amounts that can be provided to club sides in ACT, Vic, WA etc? WA and Victoria are probably the areas with the greatest capacity for growth because they’re coming off low bases.

        I don’t think the Shute Shield clubs cease to exist without ARU funding. I do think the ARU along with the NSWRU and QRU need to come up with a reasonable sustainable model that assists all parties, but I also think change is needed amongst the clubs. I don’t think there is anything sustainable about a model that relies on $100k a season from the ARU for each club.

      • Hugh Cavill

        Are they competing with league and AFL though, for players or fans? The argument from Papworth isn’t about competing with rival codes but competing with Sydney Uni. Not many Shute Shield players would go to League (maybe a few out west), and I’m not sure fans are really thinking about that either, tend to be die-hards who are attracted by the club itself, not the players in the jersey.

        I think it’s enough reason to be skeptical about their arguments that they are in it for the greater good of the game, and to wonder if the ARU may get better value for the game as a whole by investing in other areas.

        It also means I can’t take the clubs aching about financial strife too seriously, and neither can the ARU by the sounds of it. It’s an easy solution- just stop paying players. The game will go on, and the clubs can focus more on development and less on recruitment.

        • How much would the clubs save by not paying players Hugh – do you actually know?

        • Braveheart81

          Randwick spent $26k on Player Expenses in 2015 and $54.5k on Scholarships.

        • Hugh Cavill

          I don’t have a figure, no, but I am told by a reliable source that on average Shute Shield players get around $200 a game, as well as win bonuses and signing bonuses at some clubs. I also tried to investigate this at Manly in their 2014 annual report (most recent available), but they have one page mysteriously missing from the online version- the page breaking down expenses.

        • Braveheart81

          Manly’s 2013 report has $329k on Coaching and player expenses. No more detailed breakdown than that though.

        • Bizzare

          I am going to put this down here as I have an observation and I’d like to try to pick up both opinions, Matt, you state that the pathways through Rugby is Juniors, Schools, Clubs etc. I’d like to understand why this is the pathway? Juniors have subsidised and path a participation to the ARU, Clubs have foregone funding and increased participation, through all this other than draining players from Clubs there has been no $ contribution to the ARU, yet in the sense that they are able to spend more time with better coaching resources to better develop players this is the pathway? The ARU and it is the responsibility of the ARU has to be to ensure better Support for the Junior Clubs specifically, better coaching better awareness and brand building, not as a development officer stated “help them to help themselves” We don’t raise fees to cover costs, or go to our neighbour clubs to ask for money, we roll up the sleeves and get on with raising more funds. The ARU has a larger pot and a larger area to spend it on than any clubs and a greater responsibility to do it right. There was a comment, it alright we can buy more players if they aren’t developed (not going to go back for the actual quote), but if participation drops a the audience drops, it’s more complex to watch. Union over League (that’s why I watch it) so Joe public is more likely to watch Leahue, so we lose audience and the value of the product goes down. The increase in spend at the Elite level is nearly 50% this is unsustainable, suggests that wages are too high, if expensive players want to leave to go to Europe or elsewhere (I’ve said it before) have a transfer fee and for the nay sayers, it works in Soccer! Spend $20million on coaching development across the country and the pool of talent will be so large whether a Kurtly stays or goes will be irrelevant, the talent in in Aus, you only have to look at League to see there are good numbers of capable players, playing for less than the Elite Rugby Union players. Develop Coaches = Develop players, get them before they go to League or are lost in the School niche and scrap the 60 cap rule to develop local players.

        • Sheridan Gillham

          Well this does not happen at Penrith they don’t receive a cent!

  • Train Without A Station

    Hugh makes very good points.

    Matt you put across a good view but from my point of view, you are looking at things from where they were, not where they are.

    Shute Shield (and equivalents) are no longer providing the majority of the players. Perhaps 65% of current Super Rugby players from Australian came through the Shute Shield. But that’s because when guys born in the 80s were coming up, there were not the same Wider Training Squads, EPS positions and current squad sizes. They had to bide their time in club rugby to get their shot.

    Players coming through now are not.

    I have discussed on the Shute Shield thread today examples of supposedly Shute Shield developed players in Rob Horne and Michael Hooper. Both were in full time systems and made their Super Rugby debuts immediately after school (the next year). These players have amassed less than 20 Shute Shield caps, despite being around for their 7th season or more now.

    This is where the modern player comes through.

    Sean McMahon is another. He represented Australian 7s in his last year of school. He then only even played for GPS around Aus 7s, before debuting for the Rebels in 2014, after graduating school in 2011.

    Jordan Uluese from the Rebels made his NRC debut in 2015 and was capped from the bench in their first trial in 2016. Of the 12 games I found team lists for in 2015, he did not start a single game for his club.

    Fereti Sa’aga at the Rebels is another. Was in the schoolboy program in 2013, and then played for the Rising in 2014 and 2015. He has played club rugby in 2014 and 2015 prior to NRC but this is hardly what’s developing him. He wasn’t selected for the 2014 NRC squad based on club rugby. He was already in the Rebels system when he graduated to senior rugby.

    James Slipper is another who graduated straight from schoolboys to Super Rugby programs. Rob Simmons another. Will Genia another. Quade Cooper another. Kurtley Beale another. Colby Fainga’a another. Luke Jones another. Paul Alo-Emile another.

    Jack Debreczeni is claimed as club developed. He made Australian Schoolboys, played a year of Shute Shield and was signed and went into a full time program. How much could he have developed in a year playing at senior level?

    There are genuine club developed players that exist like Jordy Reid and Caydern Neville. But these are not the majority any more.

    • Matt McG

      The grants historically were contingent on development and meeting criteria to receive them. It worked well, some clubs did it better than others but it kept everyone accountable. The world has changed, we can all live with that. What Bob said in the podcast is 100% correct. The clubs want the funding they put into the NRC back. That is really all. Grants have been removed or declining for years, not a major for most clubs to not get them back, but an acknowledgment of the 70K that Norths, Manly, Gordon, Rats each pumped into the NRC to get the Rays off the ground and a similar story with other clubs would be nice. “Thanks for helping me make my money, but I’m off now!”.
      I have notice that generally the comments about the production of Super Rugby players seems to centre on that they didnt play club footy therefore no part was played in their development. Lets look at Michael Hooper. Played junior and school rugby at Manly and St Pius. Was in a Manly Academy (funded by the Marlins) for coaching and strength and conditioning ages 14 – 17. Paid funds to assist with education, equipment and nutrional supplements. Played colts rugby at Manly, did his S & C at a Manly funded gym with a program supplied by Manly. Played 1st grade at Manly, albeit whilst contracted to the Brumbies. Apparently because he was “identified early” the Shute Shield club played no part in his development. There were 10 other players who also received that support annually over a 5 year period, Mike obviously being the best of that group but others have played Super Rugby, others haven’t. I think you would be surprised how many names you recognise in pro rugby. Jack D received similar assistance from Wests as did the manly others. Imagine how many Uni have churned out? The SS clubs seem to be punished rather than rewarded for this development (only played less than 20 games etc).
      The notion of one place of development (ie Super Rugby Franchises) is fanciful. Everyone from juniors through the pathway plays their part. You can’t just pick someone have them sit in an Academy and play NRC. The clubs play a part in challenging and improving these players, as well as providing training (gym etc) facilities.
      Of course there are guys who bypass this pathway, but there are also others who don’t.

      • Braveheart81

        I think the NRC funding is the biggest issue that needs to be resolved. There needs to be a clear plan of how the clubs are involved, the contributions made, the distribution of any TV rights and future revenues etc. The NRC is hopefully here to stay and fills an important role in the elite pathway/programme.

        NSW has an extra issue with that in that there currently isn’t any involvement from the Waratahs in terms of financial, operational and coaching support. I have no idea currently why there isn’t that interaction whether that is driven by the Waratahs, the NSWRU, or the clubs. That certainly needs to change.

        It is clear the ARU needs buy-in from the clubs in Sydney and Brisbane because they are important to the game and as we are seeing, have plenty of capacity to poison the well if they feel like they are being $%#ed over.

        The question is to come up with a sustainable model that helps improve the game and allows the clubs to continue to help both with the grassroots development of getting more kids playing the game and continuing to provide an important part of the overall development of many players.

      • Train Without A Station

        Hang on.

        The Clubs wanted to be part of the NRC. Now they want their money back?

        The Shute Shield Club involvement is probably the biggest structural issue of the NRC, and they generally are the teams propping up the bottom of the ladder.

        It’s not hard to argue that if NSW followed the QLD model, the NRC would probably work better.

        As for your other comments, can you confirm that the flow of funding from Manly and the equivalents towards these programs is greater than any flow of funds in from district fees?

        And what performance measures have been tied to grants? All grants have been equal to all clubs.

        • Matt McG

          Tahs wanted no part of the NSW franchises. Still don’t. They offer no support. Pulver came to the clubs and asked as otherwise there would have been no teams from Sydney, that is where the angst is coming from. There was an understanding when things improved the faith would be repaid. If only we could all have our time again! We wouldnt have any involvement.
          Contrary to the other teams where the players are contracted, the Rays are a shop window for OS clubs. Play a few good games go overseas. Both years players go mid season for a better offer.
          KPI for grants were on school visits, gala days, coaching clinics and an active development officer. it actually worked well across the board. no work, no money. This hasnt been around for quite some time.
          Not sure what district fees you refer? This was all self funded.

        • Train Without A Station

          But every club received the same grants every year. So did every club hit the same KPI’s for a decade?

          So if I go play for Manly Roos in the local comp I pay nothing in my fees to run that local competition?

          As for players going overseas. Perhaps instead of your myopic view, take it as a blessing. Players with professional aspirations don’t play lower levels because that’s their dream. They do so to become a full time professional. A constant stream of players graduating to higher levels ensure players want to come to your team.

        • Matt McG

          100%, good on them. Thats what we are here for, to provide an environment where players can achieve their goals whether its here or OS. We are really proud of them. We are a departure lounge for players, coaches and administrators. No issue with that, my comment was based on the performance of the Sydney teams (rays esp) as to why they have struggled, didn’t say I was dirty on those guys leaving. In hindsight, 4 teams was too many (for the record, I like the NRC, think its great).
          I cant speak for every club but during the early 2000’s hitting the KPIs was a real focus point for fear of losing the cash. I can say though that back then, every club had a FT Development officer.
          The roos fees go to the roos. No money comes up the chain to the senior club. These clubs are really well run and do a great job. The levy may be different but none of that goes to clubs.

        • Train Without A Station

          I must say i find it laughable that the consortiums that formed Sydney NRC teams on the basis that:

          * It was in their interests;
          * They would maintain relevance;
          * When the NRC took off, they would be a part of that the receive the benefit;

          Now are saying they did the ARU a favour and they want the money they put in back as grants but ignore the fact they happily took about $1M per club in funding since about 2003.

        • Matt McG

          Help me, Help you, Rod Tidwell style. It was never about relevance, it was helping the game in a time of need as outlined by our illustrious leader. You’ve lost me with that comment mate. Sorry, I’m out, shows a complete lack of understanding of what I’ve been saying. All the best.

        • Train Without A Station

          No. You’re just showing a complete failure to acknowledge the benefits that your club got from and are trying to push the line that they’ve done it all for the ARU.

          What a bunch of good blokes.

        • Matt McG

          Yep, spot on. Got us in one.

        • Who?

          Thank you TWAS – nice to see someone else acknowledging that the NRC argument is down to ongoing incompetence at the NSWRU. Carmichael was absolutely right with his determination of the QRU model for the NRC. His words in the 2014 AGM were:
          “We told the clubs very clearly that they were not to bid for NRC Teams. We didn’t think it was fair to have a competition foisted on them, with very little financial detailing, with only a few short months to prepare, and carrying all the financial risk. As such, we told them not to bid, that we would arrange the Qld-based teams…”
          That might not be exactly verbatim, but it’s absolutely the spirit of what he said. The vibe, Mabo…
          So, why should the ARU fund the elite Sydney club comp? Why should the ARU be paying for the failings of the NSWRU (particularly those in the setup of the NRC)? Why should I – as a Qld resident – have to pay extra fees for my son to play juniors (compared to kids in NSW) – so that the NSWRU can be propped up, AND so that the Shute Shield can be propped up as well?!

  • Working Class Rugger

    I agrre that the ARU needs to work with the core of Australian Rugby. It’s just that I have a different intepretation of exactly who that core is. For me, the core is the junior clubs, the subbies and country clubs. Clubs yhat operate on a shoestring but play a vital role in introducing the ga e to kids and providing opportunities to play regardless of whether or not you’re a Wallaby in waiting.

    I also believe the monry would be better spent reading the game into schools and exposing as many kids to the game while working with the above clubs on strategies to retain a significant number of those numbers by means of actively participating.

    I would also be open for the clubs to recieve funding if thdy presentedthe ARU with a comprehensive development plan centred around issues such as juniors. These would have to come with measurable metrics in which they would be accountable for.

    I would also welcome both the Premier Clubs and the ARU working together to develop a more sustainable business model for that level. Perhaps a marketing plan in order to grow both the clubs and respective competitions commerical base.

    However, if they are chasing the issue purely as a meams to pay players then no. They shouldn’t recieve a cent. For me it comes down to a simple question. What would I prefer? Giving clubs $100,000 or 1,000 new kids playing the game? It’s an easy answer. The kids win every time.

    • Train Without A Station

      Wholeheartedly agree WCR.

      To me, looking for Shute Shield funding at the expense of attempts to grow country rugby, subbies rugby and most importantly, junior rugby is especially short sighted.

      Shute Shield really has very little growth potential. There were around 2,500 registered senior players last year and that’s really got very little capacity unless the clubs side running additional grades in subbies – in which case you are actually growing subbies.

      If the Shute Shield was well funded I believe it would develop more players for Super Rugby (but I doubt it would ever go back to being the primary source without removing rep pathways, NRC, JGC, etc. to credit the clubs with the same players now developed here).

      But right now what does Australian rugby need more? Fans or professional players? At the very worst we can always import players. You will always find professional players. Not enough fans and the game is sunk.

      Growing the fan base would have huge positive commercial impacts. Improved profits would allow for… you guessed it… funding the areas which were less critical, like smaller development paths (which Shute Shield is one).

      Spending on Shute Shield at the expense of attempts to grow the base is one way to ensure rugby doesn’t grow.

  • Working Class Rugger

    “but now the coffers are filling again”

    They may be filling but the game is hardly flush. It has to use it’s relatively modest resources in the most effective means possible. Part of their plan should have an eye on the next TV negotiation cycle and developing means in order to once again grow that pie. The question needs to be asked, what would be the most effectively means in doing so? Would it be funding the clubs with no guarantees that it will lead to any results or is it expanding the games footprint. Getting more kids and women in particular playing the game. Building the audience for both Test and Super Rugby?

    • Train Without A Station

      Indeed they are hardly flush.

      In 2014 I think that payments to Super Rugby teams from the ARU including player salaries were $37M.

      A lot of money when Super Rugby was only bringing in $25M. So you’d have to immediately account for $12M to run Super Rugby at even. If we are talking about being flush with funds we can’t have professional elements running at a loss.

      That’s before we even attack competing with Europe’s player salaries.

      • Braveheart81

        The Super Rugby TV revenue is somewhat notional though as it’s an arbitrary split of the gross payment from the TV deal. It probably helps keep player salaries in check at that level too.

  • Kiap

    Dunno about the suggestion that four of the NRC teams are run by the Shute clubs.

    For this year it’s more like two. The Rams consortium is 75% privately owned with the associated clubs at around 5% each. And the Stars (substantially funded by Warren Livingstone in any case) are no more.

    Yes, most of the Sydney-based players play for Shute clubs but that’s because because it’s Australia’s 4th tier competition in Sydney. If the Shute Shield folded, which it won’t – even without an ARU top-up, then a new fourth tier would be formed from amongst the remaining rugby clubs that still want to play rugby around town.

    Okay, I’m being deliberately provocative with those statements, true though they may be. Anyone who supports Australian rugby wants the Shute Shield to continue and prosper. But those clubs, and the Brisbane clubs, are now lower in the pecking order in terms of semi-pro rugby. Their role has changed from what it was in the past.

    What I’d like to know in this debate is what dollar amounts Eastwood and Randwick, et al., think they should be getting as of now, and more importantly where they want to spend it. Is it for their associated junior clubs? Is it a top-up for their first grade and colts teams?

    NSWRU and now the zombie SRU … what do all these extra bodies do?

  • Brendan Hume

    It’s disappointing that this argument has very little to support it. I’d like to see the argument that Shute Shield and Prem clubs require funding come with a detailed business proposal. Is $100K enough? Too much? What is the funding supposed to do for the game? Similarly the money spent on other programs by the ARU should also have detailed plans that provide key outcomes.

    I think the argument that the base is best positioned to develop the game is accurate and the game’s management should consult more comprehensively with the base on those key areas. Rugby is overwhelmingly a game that is supported (in the stands and by way of pay subscriptions) by players past and present – growing those numbers is vital.

    • Who?

      I’d love to see a few things.
      1. How much did Premier Rugby receive in comparison to the Shute Shield?
      2. How much did the ACT, WA and Vic comps receive in comparison to those two?
      3. An explanation why a state-based competition – such as the Shute Shield – should be funded by the national body, rather than the state body.

  • issac maw

    I may agree with both articles on some points. But i play for a small country club in ACTSNSWRU Monaro division 2 (JIndabyne Bushpigs). Our closest team is 2 hours drive away and furthest 4 hours . We struggle week in week out just to get to the games. We have have 4 junior teams, a Women’s teams (1 who is an Australian represtantive, 4 ACT Brumbies women’s players) and a senior Men’s teams (Many who have represented in the ACT provincial squad and 2 who are in the Brumbies 7’s squad) but nobody helps us. Let the shute shield fend for itself like the rest of us. We only play because we love the game. Most of my rugby team was at the Brumbies vs Waratahs. Did we ask for free tickets.Did we complain when the ARU increased the fees on our registration. No we copped on the chin. I fukn think Premier league of both states needs to get over it. I know a lot of country rugby clubs that are begging for money. But don’t worry im sure sydney and brisbane rugby is where it the world exists.

  • Bob Dwyer

    Dear all,

    1. Be assured that, across the board, the District Clubs have the game right at the centre of their hearts.

    2. These clubs all have a number of junior clubs in their “district”, all fielding teams from U6 to U14, at least, then, in varying forms, up to U17.

    3. They also field rep teams in the State Champs. A vast array of volunteers run these clubs and teams – most of whom are graduates of the District Clubs plus their family members.

    4. The demands of the modern game, for aspirational players, require world standard programmes for player preparation. This standard of practitioner costs money and, in fact, the ARU has encouraged the Clubs to continue to lift our standards in these areas.

    5. Some clubs make zero player payments; others winning payments only. In any event, it would be a very simple matter to earmark funds to approved staff or projects, with associated KPI’s. All clubs have already agreed to this.

    6. Further, we do not agree with the term “funding”. We see such funding clearly as a return of some of the revenue that we make possible for the ARU to collect.

    7. In short, such a proven successful development programme, if costed against normal business standards, would cost a significant multiple of the $1.2 million that the clubs need to remain viable.

    8. It serves no useful purpose whatsoever for uninformed people to make wildly inaccurate speculative comment on this subject.

    • I can confirm the above is from Bob (login troubles)

    • Kiap

      Regarding people making wildly inaccurate speculative comment on the subject, would that include a claim like: “On top of that, the ARU has a salary bill at headquarters that stretches to $20 million plus per annum. I kid you not. They basically manage one team, the Wallabies”?

      The dismissal of comments from merely hoi polloi is straight out of the Matt Burke doctrine of rugby commentary.

      • Train Without A Station

        It appears plenty of people from Bob’s side are happy to make wildly inaccurate statements, but are the first to take exception to anybody who doesn’t meekly agree with their view of the world.

        There’s a lot of claiming the production from sub-district clubs and how those juniors represent the shute shield club name, but very little evidence of what the shute shield clubs are putting into this vs what they are taking out, and what they are providing for these district rep teams.

        WCR has outline his experience of these rep teams providing nothing but jerseys (coaching and management from sub-district clubs).

        Then there is the comment that they don’t want “funding”, just a return of some of the “revenue” that they allow the ARU to collect. Considering more money flows into grassroots from the ARU than flows into the ARU from grassroots I can only assume this is a reference to fans and money made through them. Considering how small a footprint of the actual rugby nation the Shute Shield is, surely the rest of the game would have just as much claim to this and sub-district junior clubs would have a greater claim directly.

        If we want to go down that argument then surely we need to look at what parts of the game are producing the most fans. If the Shute Shield clubs only want what they feel is brought in through them and want to spend it for the good of the game, surely they’d be happy to be by-passed and the sub-district clubs given assistance directly.

    • Hugh Cavill


      The secons and third sentences of point 5 are telling. Why has it taken so long for this information to come out? This issue of player payments is why a fair chunk of the non-Shute affiliated public are skeptical of your arguments. In two posts Brett Papworth has only acknowledged the presence of payments (in his second post), and never once said the clubs had agreed to only use ARU funds for approved projects.

      Could you give us an example of what that money would be put towards at Randwick? I’d love to get a better picture on what you guys need to help your development program.

    • Working Class Rugger

      How much revenue does the Shute Shield generate for the ARU? Big broadcasting contract? Sponsorships?

      • Train Without A Station

        Well WCR, based on 2015 player registrations and 2016 costs the following money flows to the ARU from the Shute Shield senior clubs:

        ARU Fees – $150,000
        Insurance Fees – $175,000

        So $325,000

        That’s based on looking at how many senior players each club had registered on rugby link in 2015, and applying the 2016 fee breakdown.

        That also doesn’t consider 2 things:

        * What Gow Gates charges the ARU;
        * What costs the ARU incurs for central administration, coaching accreditation, referee accreditation, etc.

        • Working Class Rugger

          Okay fair enough. Still that’s a damn sight less than $1.2 million a year. Take into account that the ARU will also be helping to fund the Shute Shield broadcast to the tune of $300,000 a year and the difference will be negligible.

          Alternatively if the clubs want extra funds then perhaps the ARU should use the funds that would have gone to broadcasting the competition. That would give them an extra $25,000 a year. Well above what any other club gets.

          I’m actually fairly certain Dwyer was refering to the supply of players as a means of generating revenue rather than any actual finance contribution.

        • Train Without A Station

          Which again is a convenient argument.

          Would these players not exist without Shute Shield?

          Almost all played schools rugby so doubtful. They played for sub-district junior clubs. I highly doubt that without the Shute Shield clubs, sub-district or equivalent clubs would just not exist.

    • Hugh Cavill

      One more question – considering point #6, do you also advocate ARU funds be ‘returned’ to Sydney private schools, who also play a key role in developing talent? After all, a top player will spend 6 years being ‘developed’ there, where they may only spend 1-2 years being ‘developed’ at a Club before going to Super Rugby.

      • Who?

        Maybe the money should be going back to the parents who spent $$,$$$ each year on fees at those schools, so that their kids can become Wallabies. Can we please think of the poor doctors and lawyers in their ivory towers?!
        Not making fun of you, Hugh, just following your excellent satirical point back to its origins.

      • Train Without A Station

        Well noted. The Clubs want to claim they provide all the development of players, and ignore everywhere else those players develop (schoolboy rugby and in professional systems).

      • Bizzare

        Hugh how much in $ do private schools contribute? I think you’ll finds it NOTHING in $, not a Brass razoo to the ARU they rip the guts out of the Junior System and prevent players from playing in Junior Rep competitions. The Sydney Juniors on the otherhand have been asked and do contribute to ARU wages. Still waiting for 1 current Wallaby to turn up at 1 significant Junior tournement, Final or Gala day. I’ve been “developing” players since they were U7, U14 this year, there are 2 coaching courses available to me from the ARU and I was actively discouraged fro doing level 2 because is is aimed at “more senior players.” I’d get off the schools and get on the Junior Clubs! If a clubs has 16 player in U12’s and a private school takes 3 then there is a fair chance the team will fold in U13, 3 kids in private school continue to play and 13 kids look elsewhere! Rugby League, Soccer, PlayStation?

        • Who?

          Bizarre, I totally agree with your position ref private schools. Completely. Especially given, in Qld, you pretty well can’t get into a Level 2 course unless you’re in a school. And, in my region, we play our teenagers in FEBRUARY on Sundays to avoid our private schools, which means my son’s Rugby experience – along with some of his team mates – will end at U12’s. I’ve no love for the elitist rubbish that still, sadly, exists in Rugby.
          But maybe we need to have an article about that, rather than undermining Hugh’s point.

        • Hugh Cavill

          Agree totally mate, was just pointing out a flaw in Bob’s logic. I’m all for supporting local junior rugby.

  • Gnostic

    As I said on the forum last week the following points are key for (and I’ll add the disclaimer as well that I never played with or have been formally associated with a Shute Shield Club – or any big city anywhere for that matter)
    1. The large (obscene to me) payout to an ex-executive which we will never know the true amount and a failed coach on far to much money grates with me when those funds could have been supporting all levels of the non-professional game. Just think about the relative sums we are talking about that went to these two individuals and then think about the amounts we are talking about to all the Shute clubs. Mismanagement is what comes to my mind, and I have the Pink Floyd soundtrack Animals playing the background, rather fitting really, Pigs and all that.
    2. Even though I never played with or was associated with a Shute Shield Club I grew up watching the Ellas, Campese, Lloyd Walker run around for the Wicks. I was mesmerised with the running of Campo and the Ellas, and Walker was just a magician with the ball. I followed those greats to NSW and onto the Wallabies. I grew up with my Dad’s work mates all playing for Newtown Jets in the NSWRL (Winfield Cup days) so my love of Rugby was a break from my indoctrination into League and when Newtown got shafted it was complete. Now my passion has to be somehow transferred to an NRC club. I’ve tried, but my interest in the NRC is about as much as the Top 14 or Japanese comp. of passing interest only. Something to have on the TV while I do my weekend bookwork, if the kids haven’t already claimed it. I am a rusted on supporter, I don’t watch any other sport than Rugby. My point is I still regard the NRC as at best a two to three year venture and doomed to failure. I see it as a waste that has done nothing to build on the clubs and we could have had a cheaper alternative of a finals series of all the Club comps in Australia with just the finalists involved. Pad out the Vikings, WA and Vic teams if needed, but build on the existing infrastructure. What the ARU has done is basically to neuter the clubs and retain the power over the whole competition. This isn’t about money its about power and control.
    3. As for the ARU spending to support grassroots and player development, where is the national scrum school? Where are the referee development courses? Where are the coaching development systems? The fact that we have no Australian Test referee and haven’t done for years (though I understand Andrew Lees may be going to take charge this year?) tells me that the ARU has not invested in these systems and the infrastructure doesn’t exist or is totally failing. Same with the specialist skills coaching and support systems.
    Basically as a person with no vested interests in any club and just a fanatical rugby supporter, I see the ARU as a money collection organ which currently exists to ensure the professional level of the game reaps massive financial rewards for those who are good enough to be identified as talents and developed, and those who through their contacts get a chance at the cash trough in “admin”.
    I know I harsh and my feelings on the matter will be unpopular, but I can assure you that when players in country NSW where I live can’t even name the squad of the current Waratahs team but can tell you who is playing in the NRL there is a massive disconnect between the amateur Rugby people and the professional end.

  • MST

    Good job by both parties putting these pieces together. Merit in both viewpoints.

    For the numpty plebs who don’t have a clue about the inner workings of clubs any chance we can address these 4 questions to provide some clarity?

    1. Can we get some financial data (samples are fine) of Shute clubs v premier clubs in NSW and QLD. Also ACT and VIC/ WA if its valid. It enables us to compare apples to apples and numbers remove emotion. Being able to compare clubs players/team numbers v revenue / cost would provide a lot of clarity and credibility to this debate. Understanding if boots cost the same state to state or if hypothetically ground cost are three times more expensive in NSW would help. The 9mil for Shute is intriguing and seems a high figure.

    2. Is there a return on investment or a advertising revenue forecast amount from the telecast of Shute on TV? If the ARU pays for the broadcast ($300k) who gets the revenue if any and how is it split?

    3. Waratahs not involved in NRC; can somebody clarify if the NSWRU “own” the Tahs, thus the Tahs are the SR operation, the NRC decision is a NSWRU thing not a Tahs thing? Also do the NSWRU govern over Shute?

    4. Is this a NSW centric (isolated) issue and more about the structure in NSW? Should the ARU not treat all things equal and give to each union, Eg: NSWRU in this case funds with some KPIs relating to the funding and say you sort your patch and dissinvolve themselves with local politics unless there is a need to intervene?

    I do note that the levy borne (sacrifice) by the junior ranks to “top up the coffers” is absent in this discussion. IMHO the juniors as at least as, if not more important and should the primary funding concern for the ARU.

    I question Bob Dywers point 6 in his comments regarding the use of the word funding. I’m sure all of us want to see the ARU funding yield a return on investment to grow the game and be able to further reinvest, rather than pissing money away. How else will the ARU be able to afford to “fund” anything without good investment?

  • Who?

    So… Given all the complaints about the SS clubs carrying the can for the NRC, why’s no one whinging about the NSWRU’s incompetence in handling the setup of the NRC? The ARU gave all regions equal time and contribution for setting it up. Clearly some regions were smarter in how they built their NRC clubs than others. The QRU did it very, very well. The WARU and VRU also look to have gone well. I hear the odd mumble from ACT fans about their team not being truly representative, but for the most part, it’s ok (no clubs are complaining about costs).

    The only place where there’s significant negativity about the NRC is Sydney, in regards to costs, and from the clubs. So perhaps the real issue is that, in all discussion, it seems that the NSWRU are doing absolutely nothing useful. They’re not coordinating cooperation between the different levels of the game (Tahs/SS/etc). They’re not running the NRC teams. They’re not running/funding Shute Shield. They have been losing money. So, following Hugh’s excellent starting point for his article yesterday, maybe the question we should be asking is… What’s the role of the NSWRU in all this, and are they doing it?

    Further to that, an example based on Mr Dwyer’s discussion of the Rep Teams from the State Champs. In NSW, Mr Dwyer’s asserting that the SS Teams fund this. Working Class Rugger’s advised he’s seen times when the SS teams have provided nothing but the jerseys (which, if replaced every year, would still be under $1k per team in value), with subbies providing the coaches. Compare that to the QRU model (set up in the late days of the QJRU), where all regions (including Brisbane) are to pay a set figure per player, which includes jerseys (on a deal from BLK), travel, accommodation, the works. I believe the QRU also subsidises the event (I don’t have figures). So, in NSW, the SS clubs are complaining they have to fund it, and the subbies players are saying they don’t actually fund it. What does the NSWRU actually do, if they don’t run the state champs?!

  • NRC Fan

    The worst thing the ARU did was invite the Shute Shield clubs to be involved with the NRC. they should of taken the no nonsense FFA approach – instead if you remember they pandered to SS clubs wanting to be involved except for Eastwood. SS should be a reserve grade to the NRC nothing more. People don’t want to watch it on TV, but the NRC has it all – its quick, colorful and entertaining – and you are actually able to watch all games across two platforms – get used to it, as its only going to grow. The SS is the bohemian grove of Australian Rugby, and its time for them to realise that the power must shift to the ARU to run a national competition which appeals to EVERYONE in Australia. My little cousin in Muswelbrook couldn’t care less about Randwick, Eastwood or Easts, but would love the Country Eagles to swoop in to town.

    Theres also rumors that the TV rights deal for SS will fall over this week – I hear they are about 270K down at present to fulfill production costs, let alone the space it rents of the broadcaster. It was a poorly thought out deal to start with, with the match only being able to viewed live when everyone else was playing. Whats the point of watching a competition match when you know the result. Further more, from what I hear they don’t even own the digital rights so clubs are being held to ransom to not even be allowed to show their games for fear the “real” numbers will be exposed.

  • Sheridan Gillham

    I just wanted to come in on the ‘chat’ and please I apologise for my innocence in a lot of matters. My husband and I became involved quite a while back – firstly having one nephew start playing as a colts. Down the track managed teams at Parramatta Two Blues and still follows nephew’s involvement at Penrith Emus. They are the two poorest clubs in the whole competition. I loved Mr Papworth’s article and going to these games for so many years gave me such an insight into a serious competition yet a community event. I do believe that there should be some payment to first grade players and especially recruitment and equipment for each club. The Penrith club is a very poor club and obviously has been in the news for its 2015 outcomes. Hopefully things may turn around in the next couple of years. They have very low fan based where Parramatta are much better. We also go to other games and last year’s event Manly v Warringah had over 7,000 spectators – rugby league games sometimes don’t get that amount attending.

    What can we do to keep this competition going – I have marvelled at the volunteers that turn up season after season working their backsides off – all for the players – keeping the sanctity of each club together. That is true dedication. It is a very hard battle for the lower clubs to keep up with the higher graded clubs especially in regards to sponsorship. The level and calibre sponsorship companies that Sydney Uni have in comparison to other clubs beggars belief. There is a definite divide here. Even as poor as some of these clubs are it is not to disrespect the ‘richer’ clubs as they have been very supportive of other clubs – everyone wants to stay in the competition.

    I am absolutely appalled at ARU – there seems to be an amount of money given to Mr Pulver and is cohorts and he has not shown one ounce of support for clubs – they have gone against their word. It is a damned disgrace their actions and they are getting paid for it – this competition has gone on for so many decades (I just don’t know how long) but to have it fall apart from a couple of people’s decision is fundamentally wrong. Grass roots is what it is all about – giving these plays an opportunity to take part in a serious competition, hoping one day to step up into the next part – some know it will never happen to them but for a lot of them they all came from a Shute Shield side.

    I am just a sole voice for what I see on the day – many happy people enjoying their rugby and giving their all on the day whether they volunteer, play or as a spectator enjoying the game. I am a female voice and as I said probably naïve in some ways but this has got to be put on the radar a lot heavily to the ARU.

    • Who?

      So perhaps the solution, rather than throwing more money at clubs that are doing fine, is to support the clubs that need help… But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done at NSWRU level.
      And the NSWRU could also do something to distribute players more fairly. Not every player in the Shute Shield plays for their region of origin. Why then, do we end up with Wallabies and Super players so highly concentrated in the Shute Shield..? Surely, spreading the talent would be as big a benefit to the comp as anything else, as it would enable weaker clubs – like Penrith and Parramatta – to use those players for junior recruitment and sponsorship.
      So… What does the NSWRU actually do?

      • Sheridan Gillham

        I can agree with you ‘Who’ – attracting players to the struggling clubs would be a very hard thing to do. Yet if we could there would be more people attending the games, more support for the players and the players having a good solid supporter base as not all clubs have this. I think it would be great to have a mentoring program for clubs that struggle – perhaps give insight to other clubs about ideas and actions to attract sponsorship and for the players themselves. Sometimes having a good well known coach can be the attraction as well. I don’t know what the NSWRU does for Shute Shield – and I have never seen one of them at Parramatta or Penrith games.

        • Train Without A Station

          Not paying players would prevent players being attracted from these struggling clubs though…

    • Train Without A Station

      I’m sorry Sheridan, but on a practical level, you cannot argue that the clubs are struggling financially (which I agree they are) but then players at that level should be paid.

      If they are struggling financially then the players should not be paid. It’s not sustainable. End of story.

      If the Shute Shield does not generate the income to pay players, and it never will then there is nothing to support player payments.

      • Sheridan Gillham

        Thanks for your reply but my argument has never been about players being paid it has always been about promoting club rugby (Shute Shield) particularly in western Sydney where there is a great nursery in which future internationals would be discovered. It’s all about promoting rugby union which is a great community sporting competition.

        • Train Without A Station

          Well in that case you’ll be happy to know the ARU has committed funds to grassroots rugby specifically in Western Sydney.

          Brett doesn’t want to mention this though.

          I think it’s great because I agree with much of what you say about the region. I think it’s good that funds will be going where they are needed most also.

          There’s no point improving the Manly’s and Sydney Uni’s of the world until we bridge the gap of where the Penrith’s and Parramatta’s are.

        • Sheridan Gillham

          Let’s hope that this is the case – at least I think those like us are on the same page and hopefully want the same thing. It is a wonderful game and one that we can all fight passionately for. Thank you!

        • Train Without A Station

          Sheridan. Give this a read. This is what the ARU is trying to put in place. It’s the announcement of this that Brett Papworth has taken exception too.

          Pulver’s direct quote is this:

          “We’ll look to strengthen the club infrastructure and have more of a focus on the public schools into playing rugby, and then shepherding them through to a fuller engagement in the game.

          One of the problems is we have kids who have played the game and they come to older high school years and they’re flipping across to rugby league. We want to provide a pathway for them that keeps them in rugby. There is a really obvious benefit for the game if we can achieve that.”

          I implore you to look at the facts completely, not just accept Brett Papworth’s word as being gospel. He has his own axe to grind and own interests to protect.

        • Sheridan Gillham

          Yes I have read this but it is not even mentioning supporting club rugby – they are focusing on a high school scenario – it’s not about club rugby. If you look at Penrith & Parramatta they are nearly all of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji heritage. It has been like that for years. You cannot just focus on high schools – they don’t always go to league. There is no mention of supporting club rugby but I can see that we interpret things differently. How many full-time development officers do we need? Crikey it’s a bit like the old joke “how many blondes does it take to change a light globe”. Those wages would want to be utilised well and show results. I don’t think Mr Pulver has ever been to a Parra or Penrith home ground game to see for himself. I am not being nasty – just honest – they need help. Good to read the article though. Thank you.

        • Train Without A Station

          I’d imagine strengthening club infrastructure, fuller engagement in the game and providing a pathway that keeps them in rugby would use measures that support club rugby though.

          I think you’d be surprised how much “Mr Pulver” gets to.

          His son plays for a Shute Shield club.

        • Sheridan Gillham

          Well maybe he should come out to Penrith one day and/or Parra 2Blues. It would be good for all that someone in his position shows initiative and goes out there on a regular basis. PS: I think i would be good as a ‘development officer’ (if I may be so bold).!!

        • Train Without A Station

          Passion for the region wouldn’t be a bad start.

          Perhaps you should polish up your CV. I heard they’re putting a few on this year!

Club Rugby

Matt started G&GR just before the 2007 Rugby World Cup and has been enslaved ever since. Follow him on twitter: @MattRowley

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