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The problem with the NRC and how to fix it

Discussion in 'Rugby Discussion' started by TahDan, Oct 13, 2017.

  1. TahDan Cyril Towers (30)

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    Hi guys - I just posted this on the Roar (will likely be watered down before publishing), but thought I'd put it here as well:

    2017 has been a challenging and revealing year for Australian rugby. The Wallabies respectable performance in the Rugby Championship aside, the year has been punctuated by rapidly declining crowds, TV ratings and general interest in both test matches and the ever more complex Super Rugby competition, a fact that has contributed to the axing of the Western Force and all that entails.

    Yet for all that, at this year’s Shute Shield Grand Final we saw one of the strongest and most passionate turnouts in years to witness a great Grand Final that truly celebrated the best aspects of the game in this country.

    So what is going on here? Speaking to people in the rugby community, it’s fairly clear that the grass roots of the game in Australia is feeling increasingly alienated from the boffins that run the elite side of the game out of the ARU. The decision to agree to the current ludicrous Super Rugby format is emblematic of that disconnect, but so is the NRC, a competition that is entirely artificial and is completely devoid of any passion or support.

    Compare last year’s NRC GF with the Shut Shield of any recent year and tell me which you’d prefer to be at. It’s not even remotely a contest. This is because the NRC was super imposed from above along the lines of the A-League’s soccer model. In short it’s a vestige of the John O’Neil era, when he’d come back to Rugby from soccer and tried to apply the lesson’s he’d apparently learned there.

    Superficially, you can understand the logic: create an overarching national structure above club rugby that could garner greater support and fill the tier between club and Super Rugby. Sounds good in theory, but the model they chose – the A-League model – was also based on another factor not present in Rugby; a toxic and highly sectarian set of ethnic identities that made the old National Soccer League unpalatable to average fans.

    That was the fundamental driver for a clean slate in soccer, and made the idea of a new set of identities that didn’t have any previous baggage the best option. However, applying that model to a sport like Rugby makes no sense for 2 critical reasons: 1. Rugby’s grass roots are thoroughly inclusive and not beset by any volatile ethno-nationalist tensions, and 2. The grass roots are where the greatest passion is felt in the sport in Australia.

    This is why the NRC and the ARC before it both failed to gain any sort of traction; because unlike the NSL where fans were looking for respite from the old identities, Rugby fans remain fondly attached to their old clubs and see little reason to become involved with some plastic construct that has no history nor anything below it.

    The ARU correctly identified that it couldn’t afford to fund a national competition on its own and that it needed private buy in after the ARC failed, yet it never looked at the concept from a first principles standpoint to ask if it was even the right approach.

    Perhaps if these new teams had more effectively incorporated the old identities they might have had some traction (for instance each grouping featuring a shield on their shoulder with all their constituent clubs incorporated), but that hasn’t really happened for the most part.

    Obviously there needs to be a national competition, but why not build it on the foundations of club rugby? I would argue that we could build a much more sustainable competition with far greater interest from the Rugby community if we were to simply have a national competition built off the strongest teams from within each of the major states.

    It could effectively work as a quasi-promotion relegation structure following the end of the regular whereby we would have a 12 team national championship comprised thusly:

    Shute Shield – top 4
    Qld Premier Rugby – top 4
    Dewar Shield – top 2
    WA Pindan Premier Grade – top 2

    To make this work, the competition could run as a knock out competition separated into 4 pools of 3, with the tournament ideally to be hosted in a single city to avoid constant travel. This would clearly advantage the home city sides, but it would cycle each year between Sydney and Brisbane, with potentially every third year going to either Melbourne or Perth.

    This would give the competition a strong festival vibe that properly celebrates the clubs and also give it a sense of novelty.

    As a funding model, to increase both the attractiveness of the competition and its level of play, participating teams should be given a share of whatever broadcast revenue and sponsorship that it attracts overall. Moreover, each team should be free to do an additional round of recruiting from within their own cities in the lead up to the championship.

    By following a model like this, the game could properly capitalise on the passion of the grass roots, whilst also providing pathways for players to develop and gain exposure to a higher level than their average club level.

    The downside of this would be that it would entrench successful teams within their own competitions, as each participation within the new National Cup would give them greater funding resources and exposure to a higher level.

    However, because of the incentive model, each year clubs would have reason to broaden their networks, look for more sources of funding and indeed have a dream to sell to potential sponsors.

    To me, this model make the most sense in both growing the base of the game, building national appeal and generating a product that has genuine rivalries and passion.

    Being built off the existing organic foundations of club rugby, it would be strong, sustainable, well supported and built for future expansion. But perhaps most importantly, it would present a bridge between the grass roots and a level of elite rugby that the NRC simply fails to provide.

    Joe King likes this.
  2. Slim 293 David Wilson (68)

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    Firstly, I have no interest in Sydney club rugby so I'd prefer to be at a NRC GF.

    Second, your proposal fails to include a Canberra team.

    And there's numerous other problems with such a scenario that have been discussed ad nauseum....
  3. Braveheart81 Rocky Elsom (76)

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    I think you gloss over the biggest issue with this model; the potential damage it does to the competitions below it by creating haves vs have nots and increasing the imbalance in those competitions.

    It also doesn't consider that a substantial part of the reason for this competition is around player development and pitting the best club and under 20 players against the non-test and fringe Super Rugby players to increase the quality of players that all these people are playing against. What do you do with all the players you want playing in this competition who don't play for a team who qualifies?

    What about people who support different clubs or don't follow club rugby?
    TSR, twisted, Highlander35 and 2 others like this.
  4. RugbyReg Phil Waugh (73)

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    yeah Slim and BH bring up my points as well.

    I'd much prefer to go to an NRC GF than Sydney Club rugby GF.

    And if the Top 4 club sides of Briso goes through then fans of a club like, say, Norths automatically disengage. Whereas in the NRC they can at least support players like Reece Hewat, etc.

    At the same time players such as Hewat (Norths), Angus Blythe (Bond), Timu (Souths) etc don't get that chance to play at a higher level.
    HJ Nelson likes this.
  5. Brumby Runner Nick Farr-Jones (63)

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    I prefer the NRC competition that I hope will grow in time to include additional teams and proceed over a longer time period.

    I do think there is something to be said for NRC teams to be forged in a combination of club teams (especially in Sydney and Brisbane) where they became essentially representative sides. I think that would be the best model to encourage the fan attachment that a national competition of any kind will find hard to achieve.
    Joe King and TSR like this.
  6. wamberal Steve Williams (59)

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    Well, yes. And no.

    The biggest single problem the NRC faces is that the teams have no character, no traditions. That will take a long time to generate.

    On the other hand, the old established clubs do. Have both character and traditions. And enemies, always important to establish an interesting competition.

    But as others have pointed out, ad nauseam, we are destined to be caught between two chairs, unless somebody has a very clever idea.
    Quick Hands likes this.
  7. TahDan Cyril Towers (30)

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    I hear what you're saying, but to me this offers a good bridge between the desire to develop a third tier whilst also getting the sort of tribal buy in that the NRC is devoid of. The idea of having a final round of recruiting before the start is design to try pick up the fringe players who maybe wouldn't get the chance otherwise. The fans of those sides that don't get to make it will still get to follow them during their city competition, but each year there's a chance for them to get to something bigger.
  8. wamberal Steve Williams (59)

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    Meanwhile, for some arcane reason, Nick Phipps is playing for the Rams this weekend.

    Somebody somewhere has got to put their thinking caps on, and find ways to give these franchises some sort of identity.

    Easier said than done, I know, but absolutely essential if we want the NRC to work.

    Otherwise it is just a glorified series of exhibition matches. With made up teams, and players popping up here there and everywhere, with no apparent connection to the franchise.
    Quick Hands likes this.
  9. TOCC Guest

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    I've lived in Sydney almost 6 years now, and still i have no interest in attending a Sydney Club Grand Final, but i have attended NRC matches when Brisbane City and QLD Country have played in Sydney.
  10. Sully John Eales (66)

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    Shute shield is not grass roots rugby. But teams with player representing Qld and NSW Country and Canberra hold a hell of a lot of interest for country folk. I know people travel hundreds of miles to see Qld Country play and I will assume the same can be said for the other country sides.
    The article represents what a shute shield supporter thinks should happen to the NRC but the ideas take the game away from the real grass root supporters of rugby in this country.
    Maybe we should rename big city rugby comps Trunk Rugby. It's certainly not grass root. Subbies might be a little closer.
    TSR, twisted, HJ Nelson and 2 others like this.
  11. WorkingClassRugger Paul McLean (56)

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    The biggest issue with the NRC is that it is under resourced in regards to its marketing and promotion. At the very least. And underfunded in terms of player remunerations. I can also see an argument for the NSW squads to drop to just 2 teams. I honestly think this would be the most ideal with the Waratahs doing the same as the Reds and running both a centralised Sydney squad and NSW Country both out of Moore Park. This would allow for future contracts to specifically detail the necessary participation in the NRC as part of the obligations.

    It also needs to grow its overall schedule and give teams more opportunity to grow into the competition. Ideally a double round of home and away games but one and a half rounds would suffice in the short term.
    mst and RugbyReg like this.
  12. mst Peter Fenwicke (45)

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    ^^ I think we need to stop making everything SR centric where possible.

    Sharing of facilities, coaching and even players is fine but we need them to be relatively independent to give them a chance to grow and you never know we might even end up with more than 8 (relatively) self sustaining half decent and well supported NRC teams. The Sydney teams and Vikings are showing its possible.

    The risk of ending up with 8 relatively independent teams would probably cause a problem as they would want to and be able to play a domestic competition along side SR.

    Supporters would have to force themselves to deal with the issues like having to watch an NRC game as the curtain raiser to a SR game or go to a day NRC game before going home to watching their SR team on the TV playing away from home.
  13. TahDan Cyril Towers (30)

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    It's good to hear that a few people here do like the NRC, but even if the handful of people here would prefer to go to an NRC GF over a Shute Shield one, the TV and crowd figures suggest you're a rare breed.

    I get what you're saying, but at the moment I feel we have the worst of all worlds; a competition that provides some developmental pathways, but isn't remotely integrated with the city structure below it in a logical way.

    Sydney's side are the worst set-up in that regard in my view, with the Rays feeling representative only of the north, leaving a huge hole in Eastern Sydney.
  14. WorkingClassRugger Paul McLean (56)

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    If not directly involved in running them then certainly with a greater level of participation. Particularly in designating talent and such. When someone signs for them they also 'sign' for one of the NRC sides for the duration of their contract. So they'll be with say the Rams for two or three seasons (whatever the length of the SR contract). I still think that looking at the number of NSW teams could be worthwhile to ensure the most competitive competition possible alongside means to increase overall funding in regards to marketing what could be a great commercial product relative to its structure. You mention self sustaining NRC squads. Well, that's part of my rationale in extending the season. The current brevity of the competition detract from potential investment be it in ownership or sponsorship. More games (with better promotion) would help overcome that. Would also help player remunerations. Finally, the NRC even with an extended schedule should still start when it currently does. So no overlap.
  15. mst Peter Fenwicke (45)

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    Why the fear of an overlap? Right now we have school boy;s and U20 as fringe SR players taking contracts in the NRL and Romania and all over Europe because we don't have any professional options other than SR. Most of these guys are happy to get a decent wage not be paid premium wage as they get their careers going. Fans keep begging for a good professional level competition that does not have 3 or so week of away games etc. and would like the NRC love the opportunity to not only support the creme, but swatch is rise to the top every second weekend live. Even the bloody broadcasters have asked for more.

    IMHO it seem Rugbys biggest fear is that we may hurt the amateur competition in club land which is unlikely as we already are as the options narrow in Rugby and the NRL etc is providing more and better options; so we are just making it inevitable.
    Rebel man and Bandar like this.
  16. mst Peter Fenwicke (45)

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    The problem with the crowd v TV argument is unless its relevant to the market, product and outcome its pure rubbish. A million people watching a product that with hardly any, (if any at all) advertising yield or TV rights being sold (Shute pays for the telecast remember) produces no revenue is worth what? Good will funds nothing.

    Crowd figure you say, the Aviva is hugely successful and a money making beast yet has crowd averages of 13K per game. Yet the NRL get truckload of dollars via the TV rights but the empty seat are making most of the clubs suffer financially. Markets are not a one size fits all. If that was the case its abundantly clear the per capita, NSW attendance and TV audiences are usually the the lowest nationally.

    Hinging an argument off a single game where you paid for it to be on TV and was a GF that got good figures catering to the niche but captive audience, that is built on a long history in the most populated city in the land, and arguably the heart of the game of Rugby in the country , ONCE, is hardly enough to hinge and argument off let alone able to sustain a decent argument off.

    The irony of tying to spin the Shute arguments is that its own history reveals the true reality. With all the history and years of TV coverage, players developed for SR and the Wallabies; beyond NSW no body cares or is interested. Its not grown, nor captured any interest beyond it demographic after all the many years it has been going. It now has to pay it way to be broadcast which says alot.

    I commend the belligerence of the people that have kept it going and help continue to work on ways to fund it to keep the history going. But as a commercial model its a disaster and really, really poor example to try and use.
    Bandar, twisted, Braveheart81 and 3 others like this.
  17. WorkingClassRugger Paul McLean (56)

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    As someone who would consider themselves as an avid Shute Shield follower. You make a lot of sense.
    mst likes this.
  18. wamberal Steve Williams (59)

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    Who pays for the SS to be on FTA?

    Sponsors, that’s who.
  19. WorkingClassRugger Paul McLean (56)

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    The Fordham Company is who pays for it buy selling sponsorships. Yes. That's not the same as a network paying up front for the content. Which is what you want in order to build a long term sustainable model.
    Slim 293, mst and TOCC like this.
  20. mst Peter Fenwicke (45)

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    Thank you, I have no issue with the SS as I believe it has a place and they do well to keep it going. But it is what it is and considering its supposed amateur its consumed a lot of money. sadly. In saying that there are some good things done with it they the game can learn from.

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