How the NRC Must Change to Survive - Green and Gold Rugby
National Rugby Championship

How the NRC Must Change to Survive

How the NRC Must Change to Survive

Seven weeks ago, I wrote an article describing the upcoming changes to the Australian rugby calendar and the broadcasters’ wish list for further changes. I grappled with what these changes and potential changes would mean for the National Rugby Championship. Most relevantly, I put forward that the shortening of the Super Rugby season and the suggestion that Super Rugby teams play during the Rugby Championship could spell the end of the NRC in 2021.

Nick Wasilev also penned an article on this topic a couple of weeks ago which was as eloquent as it was insightful. In general terms, he lists both the pros and cons of the NRC and then clearly explains why he believes the former outweighs the latter but that changes might be necessary. The nature of these changes is what I want to discuss here, but first of all I want to quickly establish my perspective on the necessity of the existence of a third tier of rugby in Australia.

As someone who attended a number of Shute Shield games while living in Sydney during 2017-2018, I thought Nick had struck gold when he pointed out that “the increased competitiveness of club rugby competitions nationwide hasn’t come from nothing”. Amateur clubs have recently spent a lot of time complaining that the national establishment doesn’t provide much in the way of financial support despite the fact that they are now sometimes attracting a greater number of fans than Super Rugby – and occasionally even the Wallabies. I agree that the NRC has improved club rugby through layers of osmosis, but as entertaining and tribal as club rugby has become, if this is the pinnacle of its standard of play then it will never be sufficient to prepare inexperienced players for head-to-head encounters with All Blacks and Springboks in Super Rugby. Just ask Quade Cooper – and he’s been playing Super Rugby since 2007.

Therefore, the question becomes: what should the third layer of Australian rugby look like?

The NRC Is a Zombie

Lachlan Swinton secures the Rays a lineout.

Lachlan Swinton secures the Rays a lineout.

As I said in my original article, Super Rugby clubs will make less money starting in 2021 as their number of home games is reduced from 8 to 6-7 and the number of home games against Australian teams is reduced from 3 to 1-2 (down from 4 in 2017), but these teams still need to travel to South Africa and potentially Argentina. The broadcasters’ wish list item I discussed the most, of changing the Rugby Championship into a tour-style format where the test teams play midweek games against Super Rugby teams, would make up for this deficit (as well as a deficit in midweek games). However, as I pointed out, Super Rugby teams and NRC teams cannot practically coexist, and the NRC and Rugby Championship seasons overlap significantly. I will assume that this wish is a serious possibility for the remainder of this article, as its failure will create other problems such as a disinterested national broadcaster (from whence Rugby Australia derives most of its income) and a financial black hole for Super Rugby teams.

Taking into account further factors such as a lack of general and player interest in the NRC and Foxtel’s financial woes, it seems that the landscape for the NRC has become dire. In fact, it may already have been cancelled but the announcement simply hasn’t been made. It may not even be known yet by RA or Foxtel, but if Foxtel is considering cutting entire sports such as soccer and rugby, the NRC (which is entirely funded by Foxtel and watched by very few people through the platform) will almost certainly be the first head on the chopping block. There is a strong possibility that nothing can be done to save the NRC in the current sports and financial climate.

The options for altering it are limited. It can’t be pushed any further forward in the calendar because teams are already starting the season with as little as 1 training session under their belt and the first round plays at the same time as club rugby finals. It also can’t be pushed any further backwards because (as Nick points out) it occurs “at a time when pre-season for the following year is beginning” and “many professional teams have already assembled their squads completely” – not to mention the changing of the seasons (the ones caused by the rotational tilt of the earth, not by blokes wearing striped shirts). If anything, for Super Rugby players the season is already too long, beginning with trial matches in January and ending with the NRC final in late October or the Spring tour in late November.

How to Create a Third Tier with Instant Fan Appeal

The Drua running away with the Horan-Little shield.

The Drua have brought a level of excitement to the NRC

Yet, while the NRC may perish, the third tier does not have to become a distant memory. Nick makes a number of wonderful suggestions, and though most of these are non-structural they still have merit (eg, such as giving NRC games a carnival atmosphere). A structural suggestion I left out of my prior article for conciseness and precision follows on from the notion of keeping Super Rugby teams around after the finals so that they can play touring test teams. There are a lot of weeks between the end of Super Rugby and the end of the Rugby Championship, and the Super Rugby teams would only have 1-2 games in that time. While a short break might be good so that the squads can train players brought into the squad to replace Wallabies, it’s clearly not a great idea for RA to kill the NRC and then pay for four professional rugby teams to continue to exist for several months, during which time they play only 1-2 games – not to mention the fact that these games will be David vs Goliath affairs.

The solution to this that I propose is to have the Super Rugby teams play each other in place of the NRC. The 4 Super Rugby teams, after dusting themselves off from the finals series and filtering in a number of Wallaby replacements, could play in a round robin against each other. This would make up for the loss of the conference system by returning the second game between each Australian Super Rugby side each year, and in terms of playing depth would give at least 4 teams a taste of professional rugby (with essentially a 5th team playing midweek games for the Wallabies against other Rugby Championship nations’ Super Rugby squads). The Force could be invited to join this tournament as well, leaving Australian rugby effectively down only 1 team worth of development. This might even be a good thing because, as Stephen Hoiles and Paul Cully have said this week, it has become too easy for Australians to become professional rugby players. To avoid bye weeks (aside from the tour games) and to continue to support Pacific Island rugby the Fijian Drua could play a part in the tournament. Let’s call it the National Rugby Tournament, or NRT for short.

The canny among you are already asking the obvious question: why replace the NRC with an NRT which is basically identical except for branding and the consolidation of the two NSW and QLD teams? I congratulate you. You’ve hit the nail on the head. The branding is the reason to change to the NRT. Yes, this article is actually about marketing!

Many casual rugby fans can’t even name the teams in the NRC, and even those who follow it usually feel far more strongly about their Super Rugby franchise than their NRC team. Super Rugby is Australia’s second-most valuable rugby property by a country mile, and banking on the established identities and histories of these teams will give the NRT far more legitimacy off the bat than the NRC ever had. Almost 16,000 people filed into the SCG to watch the Waratahs beat the Reds in April, and 12,000 people watched the same result at Suncorp Stadium the following month despite the Reds being practically out of finals contention and the Waratahs missing their star seat-filler Israel Folau. One of these fixtures will be cut in 2021, but the NRT restores it in September or October. Conversely, the most-attended NRC game wasn’t even in Australia, and it doesn’t match these numbers anyway.

Jordan Petaia

The QLD v NSW match-up in NRC hasn’t captured the crowds

The NRT would be fueled by a tribalism which is sorely needed in Australian rugby. The Force would play the Rebels to show why the wrong team was cut. The Queensland-New South Wales rivalry would be extended. And if a team managed to knock off the touring test squad, like the Brumbies did against the British and Irish Lions in 2013, the tournament would quickly gain interest and prestige, and the victorious team would find themselves with a target on their back.

There are other advantages too. The NRT would be a companion piece to the Rugby Championship. People would be interested in tracking the NRT teams to estimate their form prior to their midweek games against the high-profile tourists. A symbiotic relationship would form between the two tournaments as well as between the NRT and Super Rugby, allowing all of the facets of Australian rugby to directly influence each other. Regular viewers would be rewarded, and casual viewers would be encouraged to watch more.

The NRT also has one other significant advantage over the NRC. The “T”. Yes, the NRT name was chosen somewhat in jest, but in an ironic twist the joke name is better than the actual name. The fact is that in the modern era of sport, marketing is everything. Most people somehow prefer to watch the 3 other major football codes in Australia despite the repetitiveness of their games and their comparatively tiny international presence, and a large portion of this can come down to marketing and its tangents (eg, tribalism, team success rate). Yet RA, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to call 2 of its 3 most important tournaments the Rugby Championship and the National Rugby Championship.

To be fair, the former tournament is run by SANZAAR rather than RA and the latter tournament is more aptly named, but when the former is so much higher in profile it becomes hard to accurately google information about the latter, or even just to discuss it. Instead of calling it the NRC or the NRT, a Super Rugby successor tournament could draw on the relative success of Super Rugby and choose a name which evokes that tournament’s image. I’m not a marketer, but something in the vein of “Ultra Rugby” would work, or even “Super Rugby Rematch”. The latter is a bit of a mouthful, but the marketing potential makes it a good example of what I’m trying to say. You could even alter the tournament structure to suit such a marketing strategy, potentially by introducing a bonus point for a Super Rugby side which beats a team it lost to in the proper Super Rugby season. For the Force and the Drua it could be amended to be based on the last time the two teams played in the previous season.

Taniela Tupou takes some tackling.

The NRC was important development for Taniela Tupou.

The other reason the NRT is preferable to the NRC is because of the NRC’s split focus. The fact is that the NRC exists in order to develop players. That is why it was established, and that is the main reason given for its continued existence. As Nick says, “Rugby Australia views the competition as a development pathway and nothing else.” Because this focus is given so much weight, the weight and spectacle of the thing is lost. The current dialogue around the NRC makes it sound like we’re watching an academy training session rather than a contest. Super Rugby has started to suffer from this as well, with top players being forced to miss games in order to keep them in good shape for test rugby, and I am a strong proponent of Paul Cully’s position that “there should be a head of Super Rugby [in each country] who advocates, lobbies and markets the competition in its own right.” The NRC will never draw spectators or generate tribalism because that is not its purpose, but the NRT needs a similar advocate to what Paul describes to allow it to flourish independently of whatever else is happening in Australian rugby.

Certainly, every game of the NRT would need to be broadcast, preferably on free-to-air TV in order to let the NRT be a true companion piece to the Rugby Championship. And, like Nick says about the NRC, “release the draw a few months earlier”. There is no good reason to hold onto it until July, and if it was known early in the Super Rugby season then the marketing people could start to spin the rematch angle right from the moment the first Australian Super Rugby derby is played.

In terms of finances, I think the NRT is the best option if Foxtel decides not to continue to fund the NRC in light of their worsening financial situation. It’s easy to hand-wave and say that the NRT has flaws or that other options would be more fun to watch or better for developing players, but in the end it always comes down to money. The transition from NRC to NRT creates the least possible disruption and extra expense, and while there are more radical ideas like replacing Super Rugby with a domestic tournament or making club rugby professional, these are outside the scope of this article. With the NRT, the broadcasters are happy because they got their wish. The loss of Super Rugby home games from the tournament restructure can be recouped with more home games for the same teams in the NRT, including against touring test teams. The existing brands of the Super Rugby teams are strengthened by increasing their number of games in watchable time zones from 10-11 to about 17 per year plus finals. The Drua continue to provide RA with a profit by showcasing their exciting playing style while having their expenses covered by World Rugby and the Fijian Rugby Union. And while approximately 1 team’s worth of players is excluded, in exchange the remaining players get to play against touring test teams and 1 team’s worth also gets to travel to Rugby Championship nations and expose themselves to the Wallabies setup.

I think this article makes me a supporter of the NRC. I think it makes me opposed to it being scrapped. I certainly don’t want the broadcasters’ suggestion of midweek Rugby Championship games against Super Rugby sides to spell the end of third tier rugby in Australia altogether. But would it hurt to call the Melbourne Rising the Melbourne Rebels and begin to think of the tournament as a genuine contest?

  • Jason

    This idea that NRC and Club Rugby can’t coexist is an issues only in NSW. In Queensland the Club System and NRC work really well together. You have the NRC sides effectively touring the Club Grounds, the Club players want to play for the NRC teams.

    Meanwhile in NSW the Club Rugby system (Rugby NSW) and the NRC (Rugby Australia) are at odds and trying to sabotage each other at every turn. And this is ironic given the Rugby Australia’s attempt to focus only on Rugby in Sydney…

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Bang on mate. NSW stuffing rugby since forever

    • Cameron Rivett

      This idea that NRC and Club Rugby can’t coexist is an issues only in NSW.

      I said nothing like this.

      This is essentially what happens, except you split the Super Rugby teams into three for NSW and two for Queensland, add in Fiji and Perth.

      And you change their labels (eg, Melbourne Rebels to Melbourne Rising), which is literally what this article is about.

      I do agree that the NRC would probably be more successful if NSW were on board though.

  • Can the NRC be credited with the slight increase in Australian Super team wins over NZ teams ? If that’s the case, it might not pay immediate benefits for the Wallabies, but it would have to be a step in the right direction to build on the NRC with more funding from RA.

    • Cameron Rivett

      I think a third tier can be credited with creating more depth and perhaps even overall better players, but whether this is called the NRC or not is sort of the point of the article.

  • Dave P

    While you are changing the comp around, add a team from Samoa and a team from Tonga (hopefully both supported by their domestic unions and IRB). Approach Fordham and his mate (can’t think of their names) who televise the SS on tv about getting all of the NRT games on FTA TV as well as making them available online on the tv station’s website. Most of Australia’s problems in rugby have stemmed from 2 decisions made when the game went professional 1. not having at least 1 game a week of super rugby live (or even slightly dleayed – 8:30 program kick-off) on FTA. 2. The brainwave that since kids were leaving rugby at 15, we shouldn’t worry about getting 6-7 years olds taking up rugby but only chase after kids when they are leaving sport at 15.

    • Cameron Rivett

      The Samoa and Tonga thing was touched upon in my previous article, but in theory I wouldn’t be against this to some extent for the same reason as including the Drua. It would be a cost-neutral way of increasing spectators, game, and high-level rugby exposure for players. I agree with you about your other two points entirely.

  • Brett McKay

    This is all good stuff, Cameron. You and Nick have put some serious thought into all of these articles, which is great to see.

    Certainly, every game of the NRT would need to be broadcast, preferably on free-to-air TV in order to let the NRT be a true companion piece to the Rugby Championship.

    This is the only point I wanted to highlight. FTA TV has in the 20+ years of Super Rugby shown exactly no interest in broadcasting games live. The closest we got was Ten’s inquiries about simulcasting games with Fox back around the time we went to 15 teams, which would’ve led to a significant drop in the rights value (once Fox lost its exclusivity).

    And if there is no interest in Super Rugby, it’s hard to see interest for an NRC equivalent suddenly materialising that would not cost Rugby Australia money.

    Remember, Channel 7 don’t pay to show one Shute Shield game per week. Club Rugby TV have to purchase the air time and sell sponsorship.

    • Cameron Rivett

      RA (or the ARU as it was then known) paid the ABC to broadcast the ARC, and that was a brand new tournament with no existing appeal. If it were sold to the networks as being Super Rugby lite then I think it wouldn’t be too hard to get at least one game of the “NRT” on free to air TV a week, and it would give non-Foxtel folks a look in to their Super Rugby teams. If club rugby can afford to do it, then I don’t see why RA couldn’t do it with the increased funds from the mid-week tours.

      • Brett McKay

        They did, that’s true, but that was back in 2007, and the game’s finances simply aren’t as strong as they were back then. That’s just the reality.

        As much as we’d like it, we can’t manufacture interest that just isn’t there.

        Don’t forget, Fox Sports effectively bankroll the NRC; that is, they’ve paid to broadcast it and they pay the production costs.

        In saying “it wouldn’t be too hard to get at least one game of the “NRT” on free to air TV”, you’re not only losing the rights Fox pay and the production costs they wear themselves, you’re now paying for FTA air-time and you’re paying the production costs.

        That’s and immediate doubling of the costs for RA.

        Again, I don’t say all this as a criticism, by the way, just to illustrate reality.

        (Also, Club rugby can’t afford to do it, that’s why the sponsorship is required. And when the sponsorship didn’t hit the targets in the first season or two, the ARU at the time had to stump up the money – because the NSWRU couldn’t and the clubs definitely couldn’t..)

        • Cameron Rivett

          We’re discussing two separate (albeit related) points. I said that RA could afford to put one NRC/NRT game onto FTA TV considering that club rugby does and RA has paid for such a thing in the past with the ARC. You’ve said that RA can’t afford to pay for the NRC/NRT altogether. The answers to the latter point are in my article: the NRT should bring in more money than the NRC because of the midweek games against touring sides and the ability to identify with Super Rugby franchises and Pacific Island nations rather than the little-known NRC teams.

        • Brett McKay

          They’re not really separate though, Cameron.

          Even just to “put one NRC/NRT game onto FTA TV”, would require RA to cover air time and productions costs of that one game each week.

          But if they were to do that, then they would be losing money from Fox, because the rights they paid for are suddenly not nearly worth as much as if they were exclusive.

          Don’t forget, RA don’t pay for the streamed NRC games – that’s all covered by the Fox rights.

          So again, there would be a decrease in rights money coming in as well as a significant increase going out. Given the oily rag budgets the NRC is currently run on, a decrease in funding certainly won’t help its future.

          That is the actuality of the matter.

          And with respect, “the NRT should bring in more money” is not an answer, that’s hopeful speculation.

          I’m all for having the discussion, and I’ll even admit that if the NRC must be revamped, then a comp using the SR sides + the Force + Fiji is a much better suggestion than any hybrid model incorporating *some* clubs.

          But the discussion also needs to have some basis in reality.

          And if I’m honest, any sudden injection in funds could be ploughed into paying existing NRC players and coaches as fulltime professionals – which in turn would bring a sharp increase in both the quality of the competition, the attraction to sponsors (and yes, perhaps even FTS TV), and importantly, the development of players for Super Rugby.

        • Cameron Rivett

          The premise of the article is that the NRC is likely to be cut by Fox, but that we need a third tier competition. The corollary of this is that RA will have to pick up the costs of running it anyway. Therefore, I don’t view the choice as between Fox paying for it and putting it on Fox and RA paying for it and putting it partially on FTA, but rather between RA paying for it and putting it on Fox and RA paying for it and also paying for it to be partially on FTA.

          The “speculation” that the NRT would bring in more money is arguable in terms of extent, but I don’t think it can be reasonably argued that it would be lower than the NRT. NRC attendances will never match attendances for Australian derbies between Super Rugby teams (as well as the increased value in broadcasting this product) and in addition to midweek derbies against test teams that broadcasters are actively requesting, there will be more money generated than the NRC will ever generate.

          I agree with you that any increase in funds should be poured back into the tournament to increase its sustainability.

  • The Jackal

    Scuttlebutt says that Fox have canned mainly soccer staff as they try to offload the ALeague entirely. Super Rugby was their first TV partner and a debt is owed in some respect & is one of the sports that their core subscribers who pay the real platinum dollars want. NRC always seen as a bit of a tax so likely to go but not this year, although might be a Kayo or rugby.com job

    • Cameron Rivett

      As I said in my original article, the NRC is definitely here for 2019 and 2020. The changes will occur in 2021 when the broadcasting deal expires. I hope you’re right though, that Foxtel remembers what rugby did for the platform in previous decades.

  • Patrick

    Sounds good to me! I think it really makes sense to 1) simplify and 2) include three Pacific Islands as much as possible, and this is a good step in that direction.

  • Who?

    This might even be a good thing because, as Stephen Hoiles and Paul Cully have said this week, it has become too easy for Australians to become professional rugby players.

    So we’ve got idiots on Fox saying we should cut back to 3 Super teams again, and simultaneously that argument is being used to advocate for culling NRC teams and replacing them with ‘Super’ teams, one of which has been forced out of Super Rugby and only exists due to the generosity of a Billionaire backer (who also helps them stay in the NRC, as well as developing them their own competition). If we do the unthinkable and cut to only three teams, where does the non-Force non-Super culled team go to survive?
    .
    It seems that the solution to everything is to cull. Perhaps we should just give up on the game full stop..? Gotta admit, it’s an attractive option after the weekend’s results, following last year’s Wallaby results, following 2017’s Wallaby results, following 2016’s Wallaby results………
    .
    Because the solution couldn’t possibly be to do what we did the last time we reached a point where we were completely outclassed (73). To analyse what we’re doing, work out what can be improved, and make changes. That wasn’t at all successful, was it..?

    • Cameron Rivett

      I understand and generally agree with what you’re saying. But bearing in mind that the NRC has already had 2 teams culled and the 1 foreign team won, and that there are likely to be more foreign teams in future of similar strength, it is probably not such a bad thing if one more team is culled to bolster the remaining teams. And I’m not suggesting this in isolation either – I’m saying that it may be a necessary byproduct of a restructuring, but that it might not be as bad as it sounds. Without the restructuring, I don’t think any more Australian teams should be cut from the NRC because the country is currently represented as fairly as I think it can be.

      • Who?

        It’s been pointed out that we’re losing kids to League because they can’t get a paid gig as a Rugby player, whilst they can get strong figures from the NRL as kids. The issues with Australian Rugby are all related to publicity, administration and coaching. Not player depth. No one knows what Rugby is because it’s hidden on Fox. Even though we get a game a week (delayed) and a highlights show, they’re completely unpromoted.
        .
        All the problems with the NRC exist in NSW, and are the result of complete ineptitude amongst NSW administrators. The NRC works everywhere else.
        .
        There’s plenty of support for the removal of Super Rugby. It’s been suffering for a long while now. I would rather see Super Rugby turn into something closer to the old rep games and develop the NRC than the other way around. And with imagination, there’s scope to increase the number of home games in Super Rugby without lengthening the season.
        We could easily make Super Rugby work like 7’s – go to Plate/Cup/Bowl, so all teams play ‘finals’. Gets extra games. If we did it in conferences, we could have 3 or 5 way finals series across each level – reintegrate the Force, so we’ve 5 Aussie teams, 5 Saffa/Argentine teams, 5 Kiwi teams. You’d have 4 home and away games (one bye week), then a traditional five team finals series for each of the three tiers, but adding in games to confirm 3rd/4th in each division. Gives extra content, hopefully more equal content (i.e. if you’re last in your conference, you never face the leader of the other conferences, which limits capacity for blowouts), and retains value beyond pride for all games (because you’re playing for classification all the way to your divisional final).
        An example of how that might work? Well, this year, the Brumbies would join the Crusaders, Jaguares, Chiefs and Bulls in Division 1 (the only Australian Conference representative). Whereas the Rebels – finishing 9th (or was it 10th?) would join Division 2. The Reds and Tahs would be in Division 3 (with the Wolves). So the Rebels would end up playing a finals series against the Chiefs, the Sharks, the Highlanders and the Lions (I think?). We all know the Rebels wouldn’t beat the Crusaders – we knew that weeks before they played. But Rebels/Sharks might be interesting. Rebels/Lions without Seconds and in Melbourne might be interesting. Further, Blues/Reds and Blues/Tahs replayed? Again, more good, close games.
        .
        That would enable a Super Rugby competition of a mere 9 weeks, including the natural bye created by having conferences of 5 teams. Double the conferences to be matches home and away and you could make it 14 weeks. It means only 4 guaranteed home games (finals would add to those, and they’re guaranteed games, but perhaps not at home), but it also significantly reduces travel costs, as the ‘tour’ each team would undertake would be no worse than the current tours, and would be located in their finals pool.
        .
        That leaves room for the current NRC, and the World Challenge or whatever they’re calling it.

        • Cameron Rivett

          I think you make some great points but like I said, they are relatively radical and thus outside the scope of the article. I also agree that the NRC is working in terms of player development. I’m just trying to suggest the best way to keep it (or something like it) alive in the current environment/tomorrow’s likely environment.

        • Who?

          I get that. You’re spit-balling, and I’m really trying not to be personally angry about it. But the reality is you’re channelling something that’s probably not far off the sort of stupidity we’d expect from RA. Because they canned the ARC rather than finding more sustainable methods of continuing it (which Pulver, to his credit, did, when his thought bubble became the NRC).

  • Charcoal

    I don’t see any future for Super Rugby, particularly in Australia. It’s become irrelevant in the domestic landscape, so what’s the point in persevering with it, notwithstanding the supposed financial returns from the broadcast revenues?

    RA needs to bite the bullet and go it alone with a fully professional domestic competition based on the NRC, running in tandem over a full season with the respective State Premier competitions. The drafting of club players in NSW and Qld into multiple teams and into a fully professional environment would lift the overall standard of the competition when competing with the one city teams. It would need to somehow negotiate a FTA contract, perhaps in collaboration with Foxtel. Without FTA and its broader exposure, it’s destined to fail.

    In the NSW context, the current mish mash of team selection for what supposedly represents Sydney and NSW Country is misplaced. With the overwhelming majority of players coming from the Shute Shield competition and fringe Super Rugby, they are artificially created teams without any tribal loyalty. It would be far better to learn from the success of the tribalism in the Shute Shield competition in recent years.

    As I have previously advocated, the NSW teams should be based on the Northern, Southern and Western regions of Sydney, with the Shute Shield clubs strictly being feeders into their respective regions, with no crossovers. All regional players should be registered with the respective clubs in the region, with no exceptions. This is more likely to engender tribal following from club supporters for their respective regional teams where their local players are represented.

    I don’t support overseas based teams such as the Fijian Drua being included in a domestic competition. NZ and SA don’t do it, so why should we? Australia’s prime responsibility is to foster development of local talent on pathways to ultimate Wallaby selection.

    • Cameron Rivett

      SA actually includes Argentina and Namibia in their Currie Cup. But that aside, I think your solution is not a bad one. The European model has its merits. A national competition that competes directly with the NRL/AFL and draws on club tribalism and then a “Champions Cup” where the best NRC/NPC/Currie Cup teams play extra games to keep the international appeal is not a bad idea. The article avoids this discussion because it is too radical, but I have often wondered if creating soulless franchises out of nothing rather was the wrong move for rugby.

    • Huw Tindall

      Biggest obstacle here is financial. Would be a massive gamble and the Champions Cup element too it would require coordination across SANZAAR which is not their string point. Think Cam has a pragmatic compromise that would be relatively easy to implement and still achieve the goals of NRC. That said if rugby collapses around it due to decline of interest in Super Rugby then maybe your suggestion is the only route out. Go big or go home!

  • HomerJ

    I cant believe Fox cut Sean Maloney, he has carried the commentary for years, yet all the ex-wallabies have been kept!!!

    NSW has screwed the NRC, they placed no value on being selected, cut the teams and put zero effort into promotion of the competition. The squads barely get together a week before it starts. How can you expect fans to support a team that the bloody NSWRU doesn’t.

    • Cameron Rivett

      I agree with you entirely, start the cuts with the ex-Wallabies. Maloney at least has an interest in club and NRC rugby.

    • Huw Tindall

      Sean is a great host in RA’s own Rugby Nation show they release on YouTube (recommended) and he does the 7s circuit well so he isn’t gone, just not at Fox.

  • Nicholas Wasiliev

    Cheers Cameron, great article. I think this is a really important topic of discussion for growing the game and it’s great you did a follow up article.
    Funny you mention it, having the Super Rugby teams in their own domestic comp + the Force and the Drua is something I wanted to mention in my article, because as a competition i agree that it isn’t necessarily a bad idea. From a marketing perspective, I think it could work well; you’ve got brand recognition, which would help draw crowds and fuel interest, and it would provide our players with enough game time to counteract the loss of the NRC and to allow them to have that pre-season preparation. The amount of trials the Brumbies, for example, have played out in the bush against the Tahs that have drawn crowds of over 10,000 says a lot about the pulling power of those clubs, something that some teams (not all, but some) in the NRC have struggled with.
    My only questions around that format would be that if you had majority SR squads playing in the NRT, where would the club rugby players come in? The key thing we want from the third tier is the sharing of knowledge to ensure the continued competitiveness of clubland, and the building of depth and talent for professional leagues. Maybe half of those SR squads for the NRT have to be base from club teams? You need that week in, week out period of playing together. The other thing would be that those SR teams would likely play only in major capital cities, which would be disappointing for many fans out in the country. Those NRC games are some of the few professional games those country fans get to watch live, and it shows that those rural games, even in NSW, draw decent crowds. Unless the SR teams play one or two games in the NRT out in regional centres, but even then you’re reducing the quantity of entertainment.
    Despite these criticisms, I do think there is a lot of weight to the NRT, and it is something we should consider as a third tier.
    Maybe this is my own bias coming out here, but if it was me I still think there is legs to the current NRC model in terms of teams, but it just needs to be tinkered with and restructured behind the scenes to ensure the retention of knowledge and growth of depth. The problem is, you and I are both very much coming from a NSW-based perspective, where the successes of the NRC have been very limited, especially in contrast to the successes of the Shute Shield. For us, NSW NRC teams have been chopping and changing like crazy, which means we don’t get any consistency in who the hell to support. I know that in Fiji, WA, the ACT and significantly, in Queensland, there are many fans who might beg to differ in cutting the current NRC model. That’s reflective in the fact that the likes of Brisbane City and the Force are increasingly able to pull a crowd. But more importantly, there is a lot of talent coming through in those teams, and that is being reflected in the likes of many club players from the QLD teams being selected in SR clubs. Isi Naisarani is a great example off the top of my head.
    As good as it is that the other states are benefitting, for the NRC to be fully successful, NSW and the SRU has to be fully on-board, no questions about it. It is good SRU President David Begg has indicated there is some fences being mended between them and RA. In terms of clubs though, I think there should be a serious re-evaluation of the NSW NRC teams.
    But hey, that’s just my opinion. The NRT I think is still a great option to explore if it is the case that the NRC is cut. We need a third tier, and having that in any capacity is better than having nothing at all.

    • Cameron Rivett

      Hi Nick! I originally included a paragraph about playing in the bush but it was cut for conciseness. It complained about how the Tahs played every single Super Rugby game since the 1990s in the same two stadiums until one was demolished this year. The regional NSW population is larger than the catchment area for any NZ team or the Brumbies at around 3-4 million people and they are not being serviced at all. The Country Eagles are supposed to service this year, but last year they played in tiny towns within 5 hours of each other rather than regional hubs with the exception of Tamworth, which was the only place in the top 20 in population in NSW they played. Armidale is the only other place in the top 40. The Hunter-Central Coast region contains over a million people and hosted no games. I definitely think a NRT should have games in the country, though I also think that about Super Rugby. The NZ teams tend to play one game a year in their second biggest city (Invercargill, Nelson, etc), and I think the Reds and Waratahs should emulate this. Like you’ve said, there have been strong attendances for trial games in the country, and this also supports my point that a game between Super Rugby sides doesn’t have to be part of Super Rugby to draw a strong crowd.

      Regarding drawing players from club rugby, I don’t consider that this is significantly different to the NRC. The Force have their own players, and the other 4 Super Rugby teams will be drawing from club rugby to replace effectively two squads of Wallabies. At the moment, the 6 NRC teams are drawing from club rugby to replace one squad of Wallabies, so like I said in the article, the difference is that one less squad of club players is drawn into the NRT than the NRC.

      I agree with you that if Fox continues to fund the NRC past 2021, the best thing for it is to simply continue the current model but get NSW on board. I think having one city and one country team should be the end of any changing for the moment. It would be good to draw on club tribalism but the clubs were cut for a reason, and the competition needs more support to grow them back.

  • Gregory Parkes-Skell

    The solution is simple enough. Take the 4 Aus SR teams and add in both the Force and Fiji and run it in two pools of three. Home and away for in pool games totally four and once against each of the teams from the other pool for 7 games. Top team in each pool plays in the final. Run it in October/November and under GRR variations.

National Rugby Championship

Somehow still a Wallabies fan. Enjoys brainstorming ideas on how to fix Australian rugby. Waratahs/North Sydney/Country Eagles supporter. Ex-Kiwi with just a touch of love left for the Highlanders and Otago.

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