The NRC Needs You! - Green and Gold Rugby
National Rugby Championship

The NRC Needs You!

The NRC Needs You!

This has been an awful year for Australian rugby. The ARU and club rugby have a rocky relationship to say the least. At Super Rugby level, only one Australian team limped into the playoffs by default, with the rest outplayed by our Kiwi counterparts. And that doesn’t even include off-field dramas. Then the Wallabies have come crashing back to earth from a successful Rugby World Cup campaign (despite losing the final), humbled by a well-coached and well-led English side high on confidence from their Six Nations success. All this in among the bad press around players heading to France, ARU mismanagement and lack of depth to field five super rugby teams.

But among all this doom and gloom, on June 29 the draw for the third season of the Buildcorp National Rugby Championship (NRC) was announced. With the Sydney Stars now cut from the competition, eight teams will contest the trophy.  But, let’s be brutally honest here. This little competition isn’t exactly turning heads. Even diehard club rugby communities seem to be paying it little attention. Many blame this on the lack of advertising. Maybe it is also because the Shute Shield and the Queensland Premier Rugby competitions are more appealing for long-time fans, who have been following these clubs all their lives.

With the back end of Club Rugby and Super Rugby seasons happening and the forthcoming Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup nearly upon us, it’s quite easy for the NRC to be forgotten once again. Well, the buck stops now! Many in Club Rugby need something to make us feel optimistic about the future of rugby in this country. To me, nothing speaks optimism like this plucky little competition, and now that it’s nearly upon us, it’s about time rugby fans gave it the attention it deserves.

And here’s why:

The need for a bridge between amateur and professional

I’m not going to get into the politics of ARU management. The ARU’s job is to ensure the development and management of rugby, be a leader in World Rugby administration, but also be a successful business within in one of the world’s busiest sporting markets, competing with the likes of AFL, rugby league and soccer. However, it’s no secret many in club rugby look upon the governing body (and their recent decisions around grassroots rugby) with disdain.

But with the NRC, we should not be so quick to assume the worst. While fans are entitled to convey our opinion, it would be hypocritical to not give credit where credit is due. People have been crying out for a bridge between amateur and professional levels of rugby for years, and the fact that the ARU even attempted to create one should be applauded (given recent financial woes, and that the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC) back in 2007 lost the ARU nearly $5 million). What should also be applauded is that their ‘financially sustainable’ model made the competition break even in 2014, despite attracting less than 80,000 in attendance all season.

This is a competition Australian rugby needs. Many players have commented that the NRC has done much to improve the quality of club rugby overall, given the exposure that many club rugby players have had playing against, and alongside, Super Rugby players. And the rise of players like Samu Kerevi from complete unknown in 2014 to a standout performer at the Reds and Wallaby debutant in 2016 really has come off the back of this competition. But this isn’t a one off example, so far there have been 45 NRC players who have gone on to make their Super Rugby debut – that’s in just two years!

Rams v QLD Country NRC 201516

Taniela Tupou used the NRC as an important stepping stone between club rugby and his eventual Super Rugby debut for the Reds

Quality of Product

Again, credit where credit is due. The ARU listened to fans and changed rules, which has resulted in a faster flowing game. Gone are the days when we watched players kick field goal after field goal. As fans, that is not what we want. Aside from winning, what we want to see is tries! The NRC averages over nine tries every game, and if you get the chance to look on websites like YouTube, some of them are absolute screamers.

Many people have complained that sides like Brisbane City (full of Super Rugby talent) unevenly distribute the levels of talent when compared with club-based teams like the North Harbour Rays (now Sydney Rays). However, this year will be different for two major reasons; being that three NSW teams exist instead of four, and that a lot of players (especially for Brisbane City) will probably be called up to the Rugby Championship. This suggests we are in for a high quality, and more balanced season.

The Players

Back in 2007, the ARC was advertised with players talking about how we may not know their names now, but that one day we will – and we know them. In among those players in that advertisement were Dave Dennis, Dean Mumm, Luke Burgess, Kurtley Beale, and even David Pocock.  The NRC showcases what we have to look forward to in terms of future greats of the game. Almost 50 players taking the step up from NRC to Super Rugby is a great example of this, let alone the likes of Joe Powell and Reece Hodge who would go on to train with the Wallabies as well. The NRC is showing what club rugby players (and coaches) have to offer.

In what has been a rough year for Australian Super Rugby teams, it is these NRC players that are standing out. Samu Kerevi, while having a mixed performance during the England series, has been stellar for the Reds. Andrew Kellaway has emerged as a fantastic fullback for the Waratahs. Even the Force, which has frequently been criticised for its lack of home-grown talent, have produced astounding players in the form of Dayne Haylett-Petty, Luke Burton and Kyle Godwin. NRC players have emerged as the best performers for every single Australian Super Rugby team, and even in overseas teams (such as Michael Alaalatoa for the Crusaders).

In addition, a further sign of NRC talent was shown last year when the Australian Barbarians (comprised of non-Super Rugby contracted NRC players) toured New Zealand with a clean sweep of the NZ Heartland XV (a team picked from the best non-professional kiwi players). How often do we clean sweep a series in New Zealand? Have the Wallabies even done that?

It needs a following!

151024 - Buildcorp NRC semi-final Brisbane City v Sydney Stars -  (7)

New Wallaby Nick Frisby clears the ball in the 2015 NRC Semi Final

The one thing that is so great about club rugby competitions like the Shute Shield and the Queensland Premier Rugby is the history. The rivalries lasting over a century, some even more. The fans who have supported these clubs their entire lives. The venues. The setting. The beers afterwards.

The NRC has a long, long way to go to even come close to emulating the rich history and culture of competitions like that, but even after two seasons, it has proven itself to be robust and versatile. Now it’s time for it to come of age. What it needs now is for people to get behind it. The success of clubs comes down, not to profit, but to the fans who get behind them. If you don’t get bums on seats, the competition cannot function. That is how much power fans have.

For example, Cricket Australia took a big risk when they launched the Big Bash League five years ago. Yet, with clever advertising at the cricketing fan base (coupled with strong word-of-mouth), the BBL now averages close to 30,000 spectators a game (by comparison, the NRC averaged 1450 a game last year).

It is possible to be a fan of club rugby as well as this competition. We have to go to games, support teams, and tell other people about this. Because this competition IS our future. These players in the NRC will go on to make their own history in the gold jersey. They already are.

Now, of course nothing will change overnight. We have supported this great game all our lives. It has delivered some of our best (and worst) memories. It’s a part of who we are. Our Super Rugby teams and our national team haven’t performed. So, if there is anything to get you reinvigorated in Australian rugby, then this competition surely is it.  It’s time for us to get behind the NRC.

  • Simon

    The best thing about it is knowing an Aussie team is going to win for a change!

    I was impressed with the NRC last year. Pricing is great too, $15 gets you a better view of the action at Ballymore than a $75 seat gets you at Suncorp to watch the Reds get flogged. Anyone who hasn’t been yet, get along to a game!

  • Rolly

    The big bash were also smart in putting it on free to air rather than fox sports which the nrc needs to do as well

    • RugbyReg

      You got to remember, it’s more the decision of the broadcasters than the competition managers. With Fox Sports effectively bankrolling the comp, its an offer the ARU couldn’t refuse. If there was a free to air station that wanted to throw a mill or two at the ARU for the rights, I’m sure they’d jump at the chance.

      • Mart

        The question is how much have they pushed it?
        This was an opportunity to get some content to the masses.

        It’s counter productive for the ARU to push this product to free to air as they get most of their funding from fox, so they kind of shoot themselves in the foot.
        Or rather by taking the fox money it restricts the exposure of the product hence the player pool is smaller and there’s less fans.

        I don’t know how league manage to get their product on both but this really is something the ARU should have been looking at years ago.

        • RugbyReg

          league got their product on both because its perfect for tv. Domestic so all times are at peak hour for TV and it’s also the elite competition.

          NRC is 3rd tier.

          Super Rugby is (somewhat) 1st tier, but a third of the games kick off at 5:30pm and a third of them kick off after 9:30pm (and mostly in the dead of night).

          It’s not an apples and apples comparison unfortunately.

        • Mart

          Good points. Thanks Reg But geez we need to get something out there more.

          The prime time super rugby game of the week should at least be on free to air live

        • Nick

          If they could get that Saturday night game on free to air it would do wonders I think. That way it only competes against AFL.

        • Kiap

          So how does rugby get to its peak for TV?

          SR has one ingredient (elite competition) and NRC has the other (domestic).

          Time to combine the two?

        • Pedro

          The only thing I’d say is that the times that the NRC kicks off means that it doesn’t have to compete against other sports, so sports lovers would watch it as there is no other game on at the same time. Sure that means that it’s not on at the time that most people might be free to tune in, but it means that it can fill an otherwise vacant space in programming.

        • Stoff

          Yes and no. It also happens at the most saturated point of the sporting market when AFL and NRL finals are in full swing. Towards the end of the season the A League is kicking off and the NBL is starting up. Some of the annual events that take the publics attention like the Spring Racing Carnival and the V8 Supercar enduros are also happening.

        • Pedro

          Sorry I wasn’t very clear, by kick off i meant the individual games. That is, afternoon kickoffs tend not to clash with other sports.

    • 30 mm tags

      Isn’t the sole reason that the competition got off the ground this time was because Bill Pulver and the ARU team worked in hand with Fox Sports who effectively bankrolled it? Rugby just doesn’t have a public following to encourage the FTA channels to pick it up. Cricket’s BBL is without a summer challenger.
      Rugby has challenges that only a long term marketing campaign might overcome. The profile of rugby and its’ marketplace acceptance is not denting the consciousness of the public. Turning that around is the challenge, and if it can be done Rugby will soar.

      The construction and mining related industries is at present a Rugby desert. As one who works hands on with construction tradesmen and labourers,here in Brisbane, Rugby has virtually no ” buy in” with the men on site, the concretors, the the delivery drivers , the plasterboard subbies etc etc. If it wasn’t for the New Zealanders in the industry, following Rugby would be as “cool” as drinking green tea at Smoko .
      Until Rugby becomes “cool” and understood we will only have our niche following. If it is hard yards in Brisbane imagine the effort required in Perth.
      However I am sure it can be done.

      • Nicholas Wasiliev

        Hi 30 mm tags.
        Your second point about a niche following is something that I do sympathise with, because AFL and league are a lot more in the public eye. Fans are able to access it because of FTA, and also support it.
        However, I do think rugby does have a following that the FTA channels should pick up. A great example of that is the Shute Shield in Sydney. When it was cut by the ABC after the 2014 season, it was then picked up by Channel 7 to be broadcast on 7mate. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I do know some of the games broadcast even beat AFL matches in terms of viewership; especially those games involving GWS. The viewership increased substantially and the competition enjoyed good ratings all season, so much so that the final between Manly and Eastwood was moved from 7mate to top billing on Channel 7 last year before the World Cup Final, and the popularity has only been getting bigger this year.
        Now, obviously what happens in Sydney is very different to cities where union is not the biggest sport. But I think it does show that, given the opportunity, rugby can perform well on FTA.
        The BBL does have a challenger in the form of the A-League, however in terms of numbers per game it is winning substantially, averaging 30,000 per game last season compared to the A-Leagues 12,000 per game. Also, the fact the BBL only lasts about a month (combined with it being picked up by Channel Ten) means for cricketing fans there is less chance to see it, creating more hype around the games.
        But I do agree with you that FTA won’t come anytime soon as Fox Sports has had such an influence in building and bankrolling this comp. And credit where credit is due, good on them for even getting this comp off the ground. I also agree with marketing plays a big role in this venture. What is great about the NRC is that they have a great, entertaining product that given the chance could really sell well. But hey, if we here at GAGR can get a few more bums on seats that will only help in spreading news about this comp.
        It is a real pity, in a perfect world, I would suggest amending the Channel 7 contract a little bit, adding on one game of the NRC a week to the broadcast that happens on 7mate after the Shute Shield is done, given the success that they have had there. That also wouldn’t interfere too much with the Fox Sports broadcast. But until then, the only people who can keep this comp going (apart from the money at Fox Sports) are us as fans of rugby. This comp is so entertaining and great to see in terms of future talent in Aussie rugby. So good word-of-mouth should hopefully get more people to come to games, and also hopefully make Fox Sports and the ARU consider moving at least one game to FTA. It has worked for other codes (especially Rugby League) and not impacted much on Fox’s ratings, so why not for union too?

  • Bay35Pablo

    I think you just put more effort into promoting the NRC than the ARU and NSWRU/Tahs usually do all year. I noted that when 7Two interviewed Bill Pulver at half time in the Southos v Randwick final last Saturday he banged on about the Bledisloe and had to be reminded to talk about the NRC. Seriously. It’s club rugby. What is more relevant? And like they hadn’t spent enough money on plugging the TRC etc.
    I’ll try to make as many games as I can, dragging my young daughters along. I’ve only made 1 Rays game each year so far, but follow it avidly.
    Slow burn, I tells ya, slow burn.
    And which rules changes are we doing again this year? Do we know?

    • Nicholas Wasiliev

      The most notable change this year is that tries will now be worth six points, with conversions and field goals worth two. Most of the other rules will stay the same, and I think with good reason, as I think it really has opened up the game.
      Advertising is a huge problem that the NRC has. Its a pity because the product the ARU have created here is exciting, faster, and is deserving of a larger audience.

      • Simon

        I’m disappointed that they’re changing the 5/3 split for tries to 6/2. The 5/3 situation worked well because it means there was a strong emphasis on scoring tries but still a purpose for kicking. Once you make tries worth 6 and conversions 2, kicking becomes even less relevant. Not at all what we want given our deep-seated structural goalkicking issues at higher levels.

        Someone mentioned in the forum that the Welsh league has given up on 6 point tries as it made everybody too focused on mauls. Would hate to see that happen here. I thought the 5-3 split did it nicely because it still gives an incentive to score under the posts.

        • Nicholas Wasiliev

          Hi Simon, that’s a really interesting point you raise there. Obviously the intention by changing the points system is to try and encourage even more tries to be scored, and further open up the game.
          Kicking and conversions I think will still be important to the game, as seen that many of the three point conversions actually proved to often be the major difference between teams in many of the matches last year. Focusing on set piece may also be beneficial, especially given our recent history at Super Rugby level.
          That being said, we won’t know until the season kicks off, so the points you mention may come up as potential issues. What probably is guaranteed is that there still will be plenty of tries scored and the game itself will still be a fast flowing and exciting style of rugby.

        • Nick

          I think a 6/3 split would work with the conversion being worth 50% of the try. Happy for penalties and drops to stay at 3.

        • Nicholas Wasiliev

          Hi Nick. I would be curious to see what 6/3 would do. It definitely would encourage more tries, and a lot more would be placed on the conversion.
          I’m curious to see what happens this season, and whether the two point conversion will make an impact or not to the amount of kicking in the game. But I do think putting more points on the try specifically will really push the running rugby more.
          Either way, this season should be a cracker!

        • Nick

          The idea behind the increased conversion value is that it would hopefully get players thinking about goal kicking which is an area of concern for Australia at the moment.

        • Unanimous

          May as well go to 2/1 as 6/3.

        • Stoff

          Agree with the logic, but what sounds better for a high scoring game – 36 to 54 or 12 to 18? We are all conditioned to the way scoring works now. The low score looks like a boring game of 10 man rugby. The high score looks like it was expansive and exciting.

        • brumby runner

          Or 3/1 with the current points makeup.

        • Nick

          Thanks for your constructive response. Having considered it I have determined that it’s a great idea and would like to hear more of your thoughts.

          But on a serious note as Stoff has already said we want to keep points on the scoreboard high as this is what we are used to. Soccer or hockey style scores are no good.

          It’s a selfish idea in that I want goal kicking to be a coaching focus and I think aligning the point value of conversions with other kicks may help this.

  • Happyman

    I support Souths In Brisbane and also the Brisbane City Team. I think you can do both. The ARU has done a fine job in putting this comp together. I would like to see from the two Queensland teams be a little more geographic. As an Example CFS played for country last year and he is a from the city he is a Souths Junior I found it puzzling from a club perspective as it could have gotten a bit more buy in from some local juniors if they could have seen the pathway more effectively.

    It is a great to watch but realistically I think the standard is only 10% above the Premier club comp.

    As an aside the ARU needs to spend a little bit of cash on clubland for example for the Australian Club Championship between Eastwood and Souths. Eastwood had to raise all the funds to attend the game. I would argue that the ARU would spill more than the cost of this fantastic event.

    • npivag

      I agree that’s it’s only a bit better than the hospital cup/shute shield in terms of what happens on the field, but the coaching standard and the level of depth they go into analytically is way higher. Also, it gets players used to travel/self-management realities of being a professional athlete.
      That, plus it’s a WAY better standard than the WA, ACT, and Vic leagues.

      • Happyman

        Fair Call perhaps go the SAFA route and have a Quota of Non contracted Club players in the starting day 23 say 5 Starters and 3 on bench. That would make it interesting.

        • npivag

          Yeah, I think that would make sense. Rather than forcing guys who live in Melbourne to got to Sydney for 3 months (as an example) just make it a more sensible thing to do if you’re developing or haven’t played much rugby that year.

        • Nick

          Upvoted but seriously, guys who live in Melbourne? Worst example ever.

  • Rebels3

    Great article

  • Tight head

    A great competition. I’d sooner go to see NRC games than super rugby. Sick of seeing kiwi forwards off their feet and offside.

  • Andy

    Rugby’s biggest problem in Oz is its availability to all viewers. The NRC is impossible to watch for most as is Super Rugby. Unless u have Pay Tv you won’t be watching it. And it’s not like the NRL where people will get Foxtel to watch it. There just isn’t the following to do it that way yet. The ARU need to start from the ground up.

    If S rugby or the NRC was available to everyone on free to air TV it would garner more followers and hence more players. The Big Bash was a great example of this. That product is now worth a bundle.

    Rugby needs a visionary to run it. Someone from outside the usual conservative mound. Someone who understands the only way to compete in this country is to get people watching the sport regularly, freely with a local team to follow.

    • Stoff

      But the flip side of this is the competition wouldn’t exist if Foxtel didn’t provide the capital to fund it. There is a visionary involved here as well. The guy who saw we needed this competition back and made it happen.
      It may not suit your ideal, but at least it is happening. Give people some credit when they do something good, instead of just whining about how its not to your liking.

      • Andy

        This visionary just copied a previous model that they scrapped. Not very visionary most would say. But double thumbs up if that makes you happy.

        And I’ll winge when I want. It’s a public forum. The current model doesn’t work, is not accessable and hence why I don’t think it’s any good. A lot of people I know say exactly the same. That’s it’s no good.

        If you don’t like people complaining about something that they think is shit don’t contribute to a public forum.

        • Stoff

          He starts the comp back up again which was by no means guaranteed, especially given the hostility from the Sydney clubs. He also shifted it from a model that cost $5m a year to one that pays for itself. So we now have the missing development link, and it pays for itself. This was done at a time the ARU had about $0 in the bank and was facing insolvency. To me that is pretty visionary, or at least extraordinarily competent.

          Unless there is solution you and the other posters who bemoan the lack of fta tv know about to get a deal that won’t send the game broke, all the constant complaining about it does is add to the air of negativity that is pervading all aspects of the game. The ARU should always aim for continual improvement, but they can’t do it at the cost of sending the game broke.

  • Gottsy

    Was lucky enough to be at Ballymore for Brisbane city v qld country in the first season. Was about 5 or 6 thousand people there, would have been more if the rugby league final wasn’t on at suncorp- such a great day. Can’t wait to see how this season goes, would also love to see the winner of the NRC face off against the winner of the itm cup, or even a 4-6 team champions league style comp between Aus and NZ with the top ranked teams from the year before

  • Muzz

    The NRC provides f*ckin fantastic rugby to watch and has the charm of amateur club rugby. So much so that following one match I attended I was struck that there was no boat race. Maybe they should introduce that.

  • Nick

    Great article mate, love the enthusiasm.

  • Pedro

    Great article Nick, totally pumped for the NRC’s third iteration. The standard is high and it’s always great to watch daytime rugby, as a photographer it makes things easier too.

National Rugby Championship

Die-hard Brumbies/Country Eagles fan now based in Sydney. Author, anthropologist, musician, second rower. Still trying to make sense of the 21st century. Dropped a debut novel last year...

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