How the Waratahs can help the NRC - Green and Gold Rugby
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How the Waratahs can help the NRC

How the Waratahs can help the NRC

With the final of the Shute Shield finishing Saturday and Northern Suburbs breaking a 41-year drought to take the title, those in NSW will soon turn their attention to the Rugby Championship and (hopefully) the NRC. However, for many New South Wales rugby followers of the NRC, one glaring problem is hard to ignore: once again, the historic lack of support from the Waratahs and the NSWRU for the competition. It’s no secret to many that the lack of support has been an underlying problem, further adding to the challenges of these NSW teams who come up against extremely competitive outfits chock full of Super Rugby talent.  Some may even epitomise the issue as the gap between club rugby and the higher tier system.

But, let’s be honest. Judging by the results in the NRC, NSW teams need help. NSW Country, the Rays and the Rams have always been competitive, but often lose out. How is it that for Sydney to have arguably the strongest club rugby competition in the country, that our NRC teams keep losing? The talent is there, but to me it is clear what the problem is: The current management system in place between Sydney Rugby, the ARU and the NSWRU.

Comparing the systems

Brisbane City v Qld Country 2014140928_Scoey185

Brisbane City v QLD Country – the rivalry is real!

In terms of an example of good rugby management within the NRC, a great place to start is Queensland. Yes, I know that a lot of people will come complaining about how Queensland management shouldn’t be responsible for anything, given the dismal performance of the Reds over the last few years. But hear me out. The NRC has been one of the few success stories to have come out of Queensland rugby in recent times, both from a performance and management point of view. The reason for this is because Queensland Rugby is much more centralised.

Both teams are jointly managed by the QRU and the Reds.  This means that the QRU is responsible for pretty much all of the advertising, organisation and planning around those two teams, while the Reds deal with the coaching and training programs, extending to super rugby players and many club players in the Queensland Premier Competition. This management was very easy to put in place because the QRU has always overseen the Brisbane club competition, and the regional club competition.

This management system works brilliantly for the NRC. Performance wise, Brisbane City have won the trophy two years running, and many of those players are now slotting themselves into the squad for the Rugby Championship. But in a managerial sense, not only does it enable the competition to access the wider audience that the Reds have through better advertising, but it also keeps the local clubs involved, and builds a great culture and rivalry. With the addition of the Andy Purcell Cup, there is now a buzz and a sense of history when City and Country come up against each other (as seen by the 5,000+ who turned up to Ballymore in 2014 to watch them play).

This model is also very similar in Victoria, WA and the ACT. The Dewar Shield, WA Premier Grade and John Dent I Cup competition are all managed by their respective state governing bodies. This means that the Melbourne Rising, Perth Spirit and Canberra Vikings receive training and club support from the Rebels, Force and Brumbies.

The Difference with NSW

Credit: J.B Photography

Credit: J.B Photography

There are many notable differences in terms of how rugby works in NSW.  The NSWRU and Waratahs have been the subject of harsh criticism around not providing NRC support, but they have one major, major problem: funding. While issues of funding exist in pretty much all of Australian rugby, NSW is particularly restricted by it. The simple reason why this is the case is because NSW rugby operates at a much larger scale than other states.

NSW is continuously expected to, and does, produce a large majority of Super Rugby players. This makes their operations much costlier, and for the money they receive from the ARU, they do not have enough funding to support the Waratahs, Sydney Clubs, Subbies, Country competitions AND the NRC. Last year, it was no secret that if the Waratahs did not make the Super Rugby finals, they were facing a loss of over $1.5 million for the year. To put it simply, the NSWRU doesn’t have the money to put into the NRC.

To further add another spanner in the works is the fact that Sydney Club rugby runs very independently of the NSWRU, unlike the other respective state club competitions. What has happened instead is an alternative structure where the larger Shute Shield clubs together manage the NRC teams, provide the coaching and training, and are responsible for advertising and management. This system was created by the ARU, as the NRC itself was set up by the ARU as an elite pathway competition to Super Rugby.

And, despite only having Shute Shield support, The Sydney Rays and Country Eagles have been innovative with their marketing and advertising, and have had success in terms of developing a following, and attendance to games. Even the Rams, who arguably have it toughest of all have had some success, with the ‘Horned Army’, produced the Sydney Stars largest attendance last year when the Rams played them at Leichardt Oval, at 800. That’s saying something. That has all come from club support combined with money from the ARU. The NSWRU doesn’t have the money nor the influence within the club rugby landscape to help pay for all this.

It should be made clear that it’s not like the NSWRU hasn’t been sitting and twiddling their thumbs on the management front. Many teams in the NSW Junior Gold Cup (managed by the NSWRU) now have direct links to these NRC clubs. There is a clear sign that there is a huge amount of value in this link, as seen by the Western Sydney team beating Brisbane City last year in the final, 38-3.

So, what can be done?

Well, if there is any blaming to be had, part of me feels that it should be more directed towards the ARU instead of the Waratahs, as they approved this system. Obviously, if the ARU organised funding allocation to the different state unions based on actual participation numbers, NSW would get a larger chunk of the pie based on the amount of players they provide, and may well be able to put in place an efficient structure similar to what exists in Queensland. But that probably isn’t going to be happening any time soon.

There have been encouraging signs this year that things might be changing, with talk around club rugby and even an interview with the Western Sydney Rams saying that “by the end of 2016 greater ‘NSW operational’ alignment will exist between kids, subbies, community (Shute), elite pathway (NRC) and elite (Super) rugby levels.” With structural changes going on at the Waratahs, there seems to be an indication that productive dialogue could be starting up between the NSWRU and the NRC clubs.

The ARU, NSWRU and Sydney club rugby need to sit down and talk. What theoretically could they aim to do as a starting point?

  • Getting NSWRU involved: The NSWRU and the Waratahs do have a substantial following in Sydney, which would help greatly for the NRC teams. Having some sort of advertising team at the NSWRU to compliment the current advertising efforts of the NRC clubs would do much to deal with the advertising problems.
  • Funding: From a funding sense, the ARU should be considerate of the fact that NSWRU is in a very different situation compared with the other states, manages a much larger operation, and produces more quality players. The ARU should allocate funds to ensure the NSWRU can actually provide support to club rugby and the NRC.
  • Add some Silverware: nothing creates rivalry like some silverware to play for! The NSWRU could create the NSW equivalent of the Andy Purcell Cup that NSW teams could compete for.
  • Joint Management: Finally, the Sydney clubs should be recognising the fact that the NSWRU can provide a lot of support from a training, player allocation, and player development pathway perspective. The three NRC teams can still be managed by the Shute Shield clubs, but the NSWRU should also have a say in those clubs. A joint management system has been proven to work in Canberra, with the Vikings managed by the Brumbies, Tuggeranong Vikings Group, and the University of Canberra. So why not make it work in Sydney?

Now obviously, we have barely scratched the surface. Putting these ideas into practise will definitely be easier said than done. But, it can be done. Many may think that rugby may not be what it was in NSW, but if you were to go to Manly Oval when a derby match is on, or even North Sydney Oval (as seen by the attendance of over 12,000 fans who stormed the fields on Saturday), you may think differently.

What rugby needs it just needs the right management to ensure it grows. The NRC is a pathway to help in that growth, and credit must be given to the ARU for starting it, and the NSW club rugby teams for taking up the challenge. Community rugby has embraced this competition. Now the time has come for Sydney Rugby, the NSWRU and the ARU can put aside their differences, and work together to ensure the NSW teams reach their full potential.

  • npivag

    I think the solution is very simple, a central body needs to take over player allotment. That body may as well be NSW rugby. This includes the Spirit, Rising, and Viking’s unwanted players.
    Just like Brisbane Cit V Qld Country, try to have blokes from that area, but don’t let it get in the way of equally distributed and competitive teams. That’s always the priority.
    As far as I see it nothing is wrong with the infrastructure, the coaches and resourcing is fine. More equitable squad make-up is all!

  • Train Without A Station

    I absolutely cannot agree that the ARU is at fault for the situation with Sydney.

    Multiple stakeholders all wanting to be in charge is the issue. Any time the ARU tries to put any sort of system in place that would address this, there’s huge uproar.

    Almost all of what the other Super Rugby franchises provide is from their existing Super Rugby infrastructure.

    Assistants already being paid go out and take on NRC Head Coach roles. This costs nothing. Using facilities they already have. This costs nothing. Marketing this during Super Rugby off season with existing employees. This costs nothing.

    At the Waratahs though you have the situation where on of their assistant coaches is off getting a pay cheque from the ARU at that time.

    The fact is that the NSWRU and the Waratahs sit there and say “oh it looks to hard to do everything. Better just do nothing instead”.

    • RugbyReg

      yeah, the ARU can’t be blamed for the NSW clubs. They are offering them the same assistance as all clubs are getting. This one lies pure and simple at the feet of NSW Rugby and Waratah Inc.

      They should have three of Grey (is he still a Wallaby coach), Malone, Blades and Rapp as the three coaches and use it as a development pathway with Shute Shield coaches working alonside them.

      In saying that, it’s great to have Muggo coaching out west.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Absolutely. The management of rugby in NSW is shocking. There is every excuse in the world but I believe it comes down to an old boys network who would rather fight to keep their influence and power than do something for the greater NSW. Unless there is a major shakeup this deplorable situation will continue. But let’s just blame the ARU, that’ll take the focus off us

    • Nicholas Wasiliev

      Hi Train Without a Station, thanks for your comments. The entire point of this article is to really get the ball rolling and start the discussion, particularly as there seems to be more rumblings of changes at the NSWRU. I do respect your point of view about the ARU, and the comment I made was not done with any malice towards their management and selection of the teams.
      The NSWRU did not include themselves within the selection process, and the Shute Shield clubs stepped in to provide applications for NSW. The ARU dealt with that situation presented to them very well. The only negative of approving those Shute shield supported teams was that those franchises would have an uphill battle against interstate teams who had the backing of their respective governing bodies. At the end of the day, The ARU had to approve that. They have some responsibility for that, as the NSWRU should too for not helping in the first place. That being said, my issues of competitiveness may (I hope) dissipate this season now that there are three NSW teams instead of four.
      I also agree with you that the previous structure at the NSWRU should have been more supportive. The only argument in their favour is their lack of funding. I do wish that they would have done something on social media to help support those clubs. That does not require a lot of effort. But of course they haven’t.
      But the lack of funding does actually have some merit. It limits their capacity to help, and it’s no secret that their influence over the game here in NSW is a lot smaller compared with other states. And it shouldn’t be. But as much as we should be critical of the NSWRU, there seems to be an internal shift going on there. It started last year with them aligning Junior Gold teams to NRC teams, and this year they’ve had internal changes going on with Andrew Hore coming in and making it clear there should be a bottom up approach to rugby, and the Western Sydney Rams told us that signs are much more encouraging since Andrew has contacted them.
      Hopefully, if there is more talk that the NSWRU is finally going to get involved, I’m all for it. Two years late, but better late than never.

      • Nicholas Wasiliev

        Here’s a link the Rams interview, which hopefully explains a little bit more as to what Hore has been talking to the Rams board about:

      • Train Without A Station

        And that’s the problem.

        The NSWRU should have been facilitating the entire process through an alliance with the bids.

        I totally disagree with the lack of funding having merit, because this is not what many of us find NSWRU to be lacking. There is no expectation for them to pour additional funds into this. Merely to allocate their existing resources into this.

        As I noted all other Super franchises allocate existing resources/employees to NRC work. Generally this has been to the employees benefit by career development as they are getting greater experience. E.g. an Assistant Coach working as a Head Coach, or a Marketing Co-ordinator working as a Marketing Manager for the NRC team(s).

        THIS is the failing. Not the lack of additional funding. I would be doubtful that the QRU would expend much extra through the NRC. The majority of the coaches have historically been already employed full time by the Reds. Their primary marketing avenue has been their existing Reds social media presence.

        The NSWRU and Waratahs were seemingly the opposite originally, with the Waratahs charging the Eagles for using their Moore Park facilities!

  • Who?

    A very pertinent and considered article. But there’s a bit more background to the QRU’s situation compared to the NSWRU’s situation that hasn’t been considered above.
    The NSWRU, from all (external) accounts, had no say, and wanted no say. They allowed the clubs to put their hands up to organize the franchises requested by the ARU. The ARU put out for applications, the NSWRU didn’t answer.
    Compare that to the QRU. YES, the QRU run BRU comp, and there’s more integration (but it’s not total integration). But the QRU came out and told the clubs not to bid. I was at the QRU AGM where Carmichael put forward the history. His explanation was that the QRU, at the time, saw the NRC as an ARU thought bubble. There was a broadcast deal, but no detail. So he was adamant that the clubs shouldn’t go bankrupt trying to put together teams. He also recognized the advantages of economies of scale – that the QRU could manage the players, jersey deals, training locations, kit and equipment… It was ridiculously logical. Thus, the QRU put it together. And numbers – both at Ballymore in 2014, and in Toowoomba last year – for the City/Country match have been very good.
    So, whilst it’s great that finally someone outside of Qld and writing on this site has recognized the QRU’s model was the right one, it also needs to be recognized that the ARU is not at fault. It was the NSWRU’s apathy. And the NSWRU has a lot to answer for, given the way it’s run itself over the past decade…

    • Tim

      Everything in ARU downwards is run by old boys and who knows who. Its not run by professionals. Just look at the reds coach got picked with no super rugby experience compared to the crusaders coach who had his team in the finals 3 or 4 times out of 8 years.

      • Who?

        I’m very pleased that the QRU picked an up and coming coach with a winning record (something not done with the appointment of Richard Graham), rather than a coach with a history of eight seasons at Super level, including two of the greatest rugby players in history, a squad full of All Blacks, and no titles. You could argue that’s an old boys’ appointment, but for mine, there’s differences. The key differences being the length of the apprenticeship and the winning record. Without those two, sure, it’d be a dud appointment. But with those two, it’s taking a punt on someone who’s earned it (regardless of if he played, or where he played).
        For mine, the key with Stiles will be finding a good attack coach… His assistant appointments are arguably the key to his success or failure. And it’s the first measure of his skill as a coach. I mean, we all know he can coach set piece!

        • Tim

          He won the NRC which is very different from Super Rugby, Why would you turn away someone of that quality from the reds is beyond me. Yes he coached a team full of All Blacks for 8 and produced a lot of All blacks. To me it was an old boys appointment. We need the best coaches at Super Rugby which enable us to produce outstanding teams. I hope Stiles does well for Australian Rugby he will have tough times ahead!

        • Who?

          Blackadder was no less of an old boys appointment. He was out of the game even less time than Stiles. And Blackadder… How many All Blacks did he produce, compared to Deans? I can think of Whitelock and Crotty..? He was under immense pressure a few years ago, so he sacked his attack coach (who was promptly picked up by the Tahs, and is now their head coach). But the results didn’t change significantly. I’d argue that the majority of the major ABs that Blackadder coached were either there before him (McCaw, Read, Carter), or didn’t necessarily kick on. Some were bought in (and often left – Dagg was bought in (HB), Guildford (same again), SBW).
          Coaching at Super level isn’t a guarantee of quality. It’s what you do whilst there. And I’m not sure that Blackadder added that much through his time. And there’s no way to test a bloke as a Super coach other than giving him a shot. And the Reds and Tahs are no different to the Force, the Rebels, or the Brumbies. All of them should be ripe to pick a coach who hasn’t coached at Super level before. Coaching the Force or Rebels shouldn’t be a requirement before coaching the Reds or Tahs. All should be recruiting out of the NRC. Isn’t that what the NRC’s for? Developing talent? Not just playing talent, but also coaching talent!!! Because, arguably, our coaching talent is thinner than our playing talent…

  • I really can’t comment on the NSWRU but I can show my appreciation of the set up in Queensland. The centralised management and sharing of resources is exactly the right way to go. As part of the media contingent you can tell it’s run on a shoe string budget but everything you really need is still there and the staff always help as much as they can.

    • Who?

      And that’s in spite of the QRU still being afflicted – to some extent, at least – by the old boys’ networks that are one of the excuses for the NSWRU’s crippling incompetence.
      The QRU haven’t gotten everything right, and many of those things are due to the old boys’ network. But they’ve done some things very, very well. The consistency of branding, the flow of information (in Brisbane – doesn’t make it to my area, at least partly because of the budgets), it’s well run.

    • Working Class Rugger

      As far as I am concerned centralisation is the way to go across the board. Looking at the professional end of the game, the business simply isn’t big enough for there to be 5 ‘divisions’ trying to operate independently.

      Resources would be better utilised and potentially a resemble amount of momey saved that could be reinvested back into the community game.

    • Train Without A Station

      Despite being run on a budget, they seem to push hard to have a strong presence.

  • dru

    Nick, I really appreciate this article. A really tough topic to take on. So thanks.

    I don’t however agree with the assessment that the ARU is to blame for this debacle. Shute Shield (SRU) simply considers itself “special”. That it should be treated aead of grass roots and for the rest of community rugby. It does not wish to engage with NSWRU, not at all, it has disengaged from it in the creation of the SRU. Let alone the ARU.

    I’m an ex-pat Qld-er living in Sydney. Haven’t lived in Qld for close to 30 years. In the UK, I found sporting groups reaching out to me as a potential fan. And I got involved. Had the same experience in Sydney previously with mungo. This time with rugby I have been here for 9 years actively seeking local rugby to input as a fan. The Shute Shield and it’s associated elements, e.g. SRU, are simply a turn off. This season the very very public input by Dwyer and Papworth have simply closed me down as a potential fan. I have spent two years not missing a Stars game. I won’t be supporting a Sydney NRC team this year. It becomes a confusing scenario of trying to support whatever Qld team is in town.

    I may be wrong, right or indifferent, but these blokes have failed to get this particular fan on board.

  • Charcoal

    From the very beginning of the NRC, the NSWRU should have stepped in and had some say on how the NSW teams would be structured. For a start, four teams was too many and only diluted the playing strength and competitiveness of each. Leaving it for the clubs to organise and with the potential for financial ruin was a copout. This is one reason why Eastwood refused to have any financial involvement in the Rams, although they did provide player and coaching staff support. At least there will only be three NSW teams in this year’s competition, which is a step in the right direction.
    However, it still hasn’t gone far enough. I know I will bring down the wrath of NSW Country supporters, but the NSW teams should have been based on a regional split of the Shute Shield clubs, north, south and west. This is where the playing strength for NSW Rugby exists. Most country talent comes to Sydney if they want to make their mark. Just look at how many former country players are now on the rosters of the Shute Shield clubs.
    The NSW teams should be evenly split between the twelve Shute Shield clubs, North – Norths, Gordon, Manly and Warringah, South – Easts, Randwick, Souths and Sydney University, West – West Harbour, Eastwood, Parramatta and Penrith. There seems to be no logical reason why Southern Districts should be part of the Western Sydney Rams. How is that going to engender any local community support? Similarly, having Randwick, Easts and Sydney University aligned with NSW Country disenfranchises their supporters when hardly any games are played in Sydney.

  • Nutta

    Great article Nick. But what you speak of is actually symptomatic of larger structural issues in Oz rugby. The very fact that Qld does something completely different from NSW in this respect at all is the first sign things are not as they should be.

    Centralisation through the ARU is the way forward in and of itself strategically, but also locally in NSW especially in the face of increasing competition from the rival codes. Eg there is certainly a market gap for product esp in Western Sydney (Wanderers & GWS being examples). Our inability to present a coherent package with a clarified strategy and thus our failure on massive strategic fronts – such as to capitalise on Western Sydney opportunities – is case-in-point.

    In terms of Sydney rugby, the Shute Clubs and the Big3 especially (Uni, Woodies & Wicks) have WAY too much power and their short-term/localised Eastern needs ride rough-shod over the needs of the larger game. Norths winning Shute is the best thing to happen in YEARS.

    The NRC in Sydney desperately needs to be harnessed to work in tandem to offer sustainable pathways, ensure good spread of talent as part of that and thereby to unlock new & untapped player & supporter bases.

    I offer the following links to my own paltry arguments for consideration:

    Good article Nick. Valid points and it’s something that needs addressing quite badly.

    • Nicholas Wasiliev

      Hi Nutta, Had a read of your articles and I think you have some really valid points. Particularly poignant considering how much trouble Penrith was in last year. I do disagree with your view that the Shute Shield can support three teams (I’m assuming that you’re saying that is three teams in the Sydney region, and one in the country, as it was last year), judging on how results have gone in the NRC. That’s not to fault the effort of those players. So often games between the top teams full of Super Rugby talent and these NSW teams often were close up until the 50th-60th minute, then the score would blow out (case in point last year when the Rays led Brisbane City 29-24 after 53 minutes at Ballymore, but then ran out of steam. Coupled with City adding some Super Rugby talent experience from the bench, they went on to lose 50-29).
      I think that what we have this year can work extremely well. You have the Sydney Rays, Western Sydney Rams and NSW Country. Those three teams I think are geographically quite appropriate for the level of talent. The big issue obviously I think is the allocation of Shute Shield teams to those specific clubs. While I see the point in the NSW Country and Stars merge, geographically, it makes little sense for Sydney Uni to have players in NSW Country. Also, why aren’t Eastwood backing the Rays?
      My biggest worry too is the Rams, who have less in-form clubs to pull from (which goes into your points you made about Parramatta and Penrith receiving no support, yet only serving as an incubator for the other Shute teams. There is a big power disparity there). Despite the great coaching team, and recruiting the likes of Will Skelton and Kevin Locke, I worry about their depth.
      A draft based on the NFL could theoretically work really well for Shute Shield (and even the NRC), maybe even giving the players from the West a chance to go back there and represent the area. Now, more than ever, this issue of management and club support is one we should be addressing. We have to keep pushing it as a major issue in Aussie Rugby. NSW has the largest number of quality players, so if we get our act together, it may lead to improvements for Aussie rugby overall. With the comments of focusing back on the community made by the new Waratah’s CEO Andrew Hore, hopefully it may a sign of positive things to come.

  • Nick

    Great article mate. Not an easy problem to fix.

  • Nicholas Wasiliev

    For those of you who are curious about what exactly is going on at the NSWRU, the guys at Rugby News have had the chance to sit down with the new NSW Waratahs CEO, Andrew Hore. From this interview, there looks like there seems to be a focus on community rugby a lot more.

    What are your thoughts on the whole situation, in light of what seems to be coming our of the NSW governing body?

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Die-hard Brumbies/Country Eagles fan now based in Sydney. Author, anthropologist, musician and second-rower trying to kick start a writing career in an increasingly bonkers world...

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