Where to for the Shute Shield part 2 – Green and Gold Rugby
Shute Shield

Where to for the Shute Shield part 2

Where to for the Shute Shield part 2

I recently contributed on the future of the Shute Shield. IMO the competition is unsustainably dominated by a few and the west is being left to wither & die to the detriment of the whole competition. The article had some great feedback and respondents varied in their read on the situation (a compliment to the calibre of patronage).

Today on offer is a plan on how to not just fix, but completely reinvigorate the competition to once again being a show-case, if we are but brave enough to have the vision.

The Plan is built on 4 components:

1.     Get & Keep Players West.

For too long the likes of Penrith, West Harbour & Parramatta have been little more than incubators of players for the east. This must be stopped. But how? They must be structurally able to compete. I propose two core ideas:

a)    Steal an idea from the NFL draft. Firstly, if you are signed professionally for ARU, Super or NRC and you are based in Sydney then part of that agreement is that you play any club rugby where you are told. These “Power Players” are to be allocated to clubs who need them – ie who finished at or near the bottom of the table last year. I’m not talking wholesale redistribution or Wobblies we don’t ever see, but rather (say) a dozen regular players are distributed as needed to balance the competition.

b)    This is supported by a different approach to the NRC. Sydney with its size & strength should have 3 Franchises: North, South and West. North would be Eastwood, Rats, Manly, Gordo & Norths. South would be Wicks, Uni, Southo’s & Beasts. This means West will only be able to pull from Parramatta, Penrith & West Harbour. This will naturally incentivise hungry players to stay or even move to those western clubs to access a pathway to NRC and beyond.

Parramatta centre-wing Taqele-Naiyaravoro on his way to an after the bell try - photo by Debbie O'Connor

Parramatta centre-wing Taqele-Naiyaravoro on his way to an after the bell try – photo by Debbie O’Connor

2.     Fresh Blood

a)    Promotion and relegation must be reintroduced into Shute in 2-3yrs time. This is critical to get fresh blood to prevent stagnation. However it must be supported the right way. To be considered a club must win Kentwell PLUS Club Championship. Even then they must be invited based on whole-of-club strength including administration, grounds, facilities, player depth to support 2/3/4 grade etc and may accept or decline. Looking at perennial Kentwell Cup power-clubs (eg Drummoyne & St Pats) and even recent newbies like Balmain they can muster the strength given the time and the prize.

b)    Leveraging 1.a above, as the bottom Shute club is relegated to Subbies, any Power Players they have are automatically sent to the newly Promoted club. Further, the Promoted club and the next 2 bottom-finishers in Shute split the residual pool of Power Players between them. This should provide ample Power Players (approx. 5-7) for the Promoted club to not simply get bashed out in their first year.

3.     Sustainable Affiliations

This is the hard one, but we must learn from US colleges and Sydney Uni. Through ARU leverage we access sponsorship and scholarship to affiliate Parramatta with Macquarie Uni, West Harbour with UTS, Southo’s with UNSW and Penrith with UWS. Tie scholarships into the clubs so that guys coming out of Aust Schools, U19’s and 20’s have somewhere to go other than Sydney Uni or bloody Toyota Cup. We could also use the same mechanism to attract key young foreign players (eg Eastern European Front Rowers) from the U20 World Cup

4.     Capture the Kids and build the market

Have you seen the cost of Little Athletics, soccer, league etc lately? With 3 kids it kills me. I would subsidise U16 and down club-rugby (not schools) comps throughout Sydney but with a priority on the west to get them registered for (say) $50 a head. Price-incentive the parents to get the kids playing RUGBY especially in the west where price matters. Build the player base AND the consumer base who will support the now-winning western clubs.

We will positively attack west Sydney through this plan: make their clubs stronger immediately with Power Players, give their hungry players incentive and path-ways, attract younger colts players out there through scholarships and build the market where it is most-ripe.

And here’s where it now gets subversive. Consider that Parramatta and Penrith are more-often-than-not weak in the Mungo and the GWS Giants, besides just not being popular in western Sydney, struggle on the field too. The west is tired of losing.

Parramatta centre Tui Faasisila leaves a trail of defenders as he scores a try_photo by Pat Dunne


So I say steal an idea from Mungo and on the back of newly competitive western rugby clubs, reinvent & restart the Fibro’s vs Silvertails under-current. Market it as the west vs the east except with the west winning for once. Then just watch the west rally behind those twin banners of winning clubs and a red-ragger message they can relate to. Yes it will make the private-school easterners uncomfortable, but that’s partly the point – to recognise that what was once good enough is no longer good enough.

We have a real opportunity to give the west the clubs and the game they can rally behind if we take the challenge. And then we reap the reward as this approach will also have benefit to the whole comp and even the national ARU game because by making the Shute Shield larger, stronger, self-renewing, more diverse and giving a better platform to compete with Mungo, AFL and the Soccer.

I believe we can actually own western Sydney if we really want to. And with an injection of blue-collar players and supporters that strong, on-top of a national structure that has already won 2 World Cups and is already a world top5 competitor… well I would like to see that.

So there is a plan to consider. And it’s meat & potato’s stuff at that. It brings the best our game can offer to provide a life-line to the best comp our game has.

Or am I wrong?

  • Zebber

    Eastwood should be West.

    • Pfitzy

      I agree – split the 12 clubs into equal parts of 4. Eastwood bring a much-needed strength in depth, and its likely their player will be the first ones signed up the ladder, creating space for the other talent to come through.

      Look at Jerome Mackenzie: if he hadn’t broken his ankle in the last week of the NRC he’d be getting seriously looked at by either bigger clubs (which doesn’t help of course) or extended Super squads.

      • Ray

        Likewise agree. Eastwood’s catchment extends as far as Dural in the North West, so it could legitimately claim to be part of Western Sydney. While it dominated player participation in the Western/Greater Sydney Rams, this won’t always be the case and it gives incentive to other Western Sydney clubs to recruit players knowing that there is a pathway to a competitive NRC club with a strong player base. I don’t see the point though of Southern Districts being part of a Western Sydney franchise. They belong in the Southern Sydney region.
        BTW, what happened to Jerome Mackenzie? He was a sensation last year for both Penrith and the Rams and I haven’t seen any mention of him this season.

        • Nutta

          Respectfully disagree guys. Part of the plan is to make the west stronger by offering pathways for players. If we put Eastwood in West then West merely becomes Eastwood and keeps Parra/Penrith/W.Hrb nailed down by perpetuating the same shite. Make the Westies ATTRACTIVE to hungry players. Plus, do you see anyone in the west taking on the image and supporting Wests when the player base contains guys from such Beecroft/Eastwood/Epping/Ryde? No. Westies should be that – Westies.

        • Rugby Central

          Hi Ray, I think you need to look at a map of Sydney sometime. Dural is still east of Parramatta. And with TG Milner as the home in Ryde, I think calling it part of the west is a little misguided.

          If you want the west to build, you don’t do it by effectively putting all their resources in Ryde.

          Fernando said Shute Shield “one of the only things which is good and pure about Australian rugby at the moment” This shows an ignorance of what is going on in the rest of clubland. What’s pure about hording players with no geographical or community affiliation with the Club? What pure about stacking Clubs with fulltime professionals just before finals to unbalance a season?
          Don’t get me wrong, I love Shute Shield, but statements like these only give credence to Nutta’s assertion that many in the Rugby community are removed from reality.

        • Ray

          OK, I’ll admit that Eastwood is borderline between North and West. Its catchment area extends as far as Parramatta’s border at Castle Hill. In a bygone era it was part of the North Harbour region, as was Parramatta, then based at Cumberland Oval. West Harbour’s region is east of Eastwood’s.
          However, in the interest of balancing up the relative competiveness of potentially 3 Sydney regions of North, South and West in the NRC, it has to be aligned with Western Sydney. What hope would the Rams have otherwise, at least in the short term, of being competitive? 4 Sydney teams per region seems to me to be a sensible option in the longer term. I’m a Woodies’ member BTW.
          On another point, Eastwood is Eastwood, and not Ryde, so please acknowledge that.

        • Rugby Central

          I think Nutta’s point about building up the wests strength is built on Eastwood not being part of the West. To build the Western Sydney Clubs players need to go to those Clubs. The fringe players at Eastwood would not see the NRC. However if they’re ambitious, they can move to the Western Sydney Clubs to create depth and have a better chance at the NRC.
          I acknowlege I was too geographically general referring Eastwood the Club being in Ryde…..
          Eastwood the Suburb ends at Abuklea Rd, a couple of streets short of TG Milner. Eastwood the Club resides in Marsfiled. However, I acknowledge they share the same postcode of 2122
          I am not an Eastwood member but look forward to having beer, oxygen and my wrinkly butt (in that order) handed to me next time I play the Charcoals

        • Ray

          Yes, I take your point RC, but in the interest of balancing up the relative strength of potentially 3 Sydney based teams, I still think Eastwood has to be part of Western Sydney, at least in the short term, until the individual Western clubs, particularly Parramatta and Penrith, become competitive in their own right. West Harbour is already a competitive club.
          Including Eastwood in the Northern Sydney franchise, to which it could also legitimately claim to belong to, would create an imbalance with 5 relatively strong clubs and in the process limit representation from each. I’d love to see the West prosper, but it’s not going to happen without a leg up from a strong club like Eastwood.

  • Muzz

    Some good points mate. It will take a fairly substantial structural shift but it really shouldn’t be that difficult if the will is there. Change is well overdue.

  • the waterboy

    the relegation system for subbies and shute is a great way to even out the two competitions but for one major speed bump. in my experience clubs like balmain, drummoyne and st pats (not anymore) would handle premier rugby in grade, but none of those clubs would be anywhere near the required standard for the colts competition – considering all of those clubs only field one colts side (and not exceptional ones at that)

    the 2nd reality we must face is the NRC – i think the NRC is great for player development and will become key in australia winning world cups in years to come.
    the issue is that for one comp to flourish, one must suffer, in this instance it is the shute shield (and old premier rugby etc)

    the shute shield as of today is a great comp but with super rugby over, the students will get back a dozen or so tahs and out of nowhere will finish top 4 and likely win the premiership again. this reality completely detracts from what is an otherwise riveting spectacle. all these returning super rugby players should be void from playing super rugby and should be thrown straight into the NRC. this will prevent clubs like manly having their season derailed by clubs who have a plethora of full time athletes returning to their sides after a full season in the world’s toughest provincial competition.

    for the NRC to succeed the shute shield must relinquish its elite player pool. will that decrease the public interest in the shute shield? most definitely, but what we need to weigh up is whether a full time professional competition like the NRC is more or less important than a semi professional comp like the Shute shield

    as much as i hate to admit it, the shute shield will never return to what it once was

    • Ray

      I don’t support the relegation system, because it has been tried before (in the 1980’s I think) and was a complete failure. The problem was that once a team was relegated, the better players from the relegated clubs gravitated towards those clubs which were still part of the Shute Shield premier tier. What hope did the relegated clubs have in remaining competitive to have any chance of gaining promotion in subsequent years?
      I question the notion of promotion and relegation between Shute Shield and Subbies. While I acknowledge that the Kentwell Cup is of a high standard, it is still well below Shute Shield level. Why would a player with higher representative aspirations play for Subbies, where he’s not going to be noticed, rather than playing for a Shute Shield club? Just by way of example, the farcical joint venture between Sydney University and Balmain as the Sydney Stars in last year’s NRC (apparently to be continued this year) had only token player representation from Balmain. How many Subbies’ players have been recruited to Super Rugby? It’s park football!
      Having said that, as a passionate Shute Shield club supporter, I reluctantly acknowledge that the NRC has to be the focus of the tier below Super Rugby. However, that doesn’t mean that the State Premier competitions such as the Shute Shield have to be relegated into oblivion. I visualise Premier Rugby and the NRC as being complimentary to each other, still providing development pathways from Colts through to Super Rugby and the Wallabies.

      • Neilsy

        I’m not too sure but was this not alluded to in the original article in that the better players from the relegated teams can only move to the promoted team?

        • Nutta

          Yes. That way the newly promoted club effectively gets a double-dip on the Power Player pool. Naturally this pushes a few previous 1st graders into 2nds etc. Strengthens the whole club. PLUS the invite up was based off winning Kentwell AND Club Championship PLUS passing the audit of grounds, facilities, admin etc. They only come up if ready to come up.

      • Simmo

        Agreed, SS needs to be ringfenced and strengthened rather than spread it amongst the 10 corners of greater Sydney that is Subbies.
        Note that Kentwell clubs have fallen very quickly over the recent years as Hornsby, Beecroft and Waverley not to mention the disappearance overnight of Dundas Valley or Campbelltown.
        This would be a disaster if it happened at SS level

  • Nick

    Great thoughts. You should put this in a letter to Bill P and Nick F-J. Seriously.

    • Nick

      Stop stealing my ideas imposter Nick!

  • Stoff

    I look at this from the position of someone who has grown up in Victoria, and is familiar with the VRU system (which really operates as is based on necessity driven by low participation numbers), but also that employed in Australian Rules. Shute shield and its subgrades and junior comp is too big. I am not sure how much financial benefit is derived from third and fourth grade seniors, and third grade colts, but they dilute the competition.
    The more grades you have, the more talent gravitates to the larger clubs. A player playing thirds at a top club is potentially good enough to play seconds at a bottom club. By playing at the stronger club, he strengthens them to the detriment of both the weaker club, and the overall competition. If there is no third grade, they are just as likely to look for opportunities elsewhere with Shute Shield clubs in order to maintain a place in the top level comp. This then brings up the standard of the lower club, and therefore the competition. If a competition wants its place as en elite competition, it can’t cater to the non-elite.

    • Chris M

      An excellent observation.

    • Simmo

      If you drop grades in comps its been shown players dont come back, ie 5ths in grade and the missing 5th division in subbies. Clubs are losing numbers at an alarming rate in 10+years. Plus its great to play and rub shoulders amongst top players in grade even though you know you will never make 1sts and 2nds which was my experience and with 1-2 grades where do you get players from if you have a swathe of injuries? I dont think you can just ask thenearest 1st div subbies club to give it up for us.

      • Stoff

        On the dropping grades issue, it is all about what the comp wants to be. If it is the premier level of non-elite competition, then there is no real need to change. If the competition does make changes to attempt to cement itself as an elite level competition, the clubs will always find the players, but yes this would be from the next level down. Why is it any less acceptable for a Shute Shield club to take injury cover from Subbies than it is for a Super Rugby franchise to take from Shute Shield? This is all based on the competition wanting to regain its place as an elite level comp.

  • Spank

    Some really good ideas here – above and below. Can you get the Powers That Be to consider them though. Good luck.

  • Nick

    I like almost all of these ideas although I really dislike sporting scholarships. I hate the idea that some kid may miss out on a degree because of one. It’s pretty disgusting at the level it is in the US.

    I can get on board affiliations but I think sport and tuition should be separate.

    • peej

      I understand your point about a kid potentially jumping a more deserving student for tuition but having worked in a university student services department, most courses bar your medical and some law/commerce don’t have specific caps on numbers and even then it changes from subject to subject. Most student athletes in Aus usually do part time and study things which they purely find interesting like health sciences and exercise physiology.

      I couldn’t speak about the US system as I have no experience.

      • Nutta

        All things must have integrity or they fail. The student must be of sufficient academic calibre to justify the place in the course. For me it goes without saying that they should maintain a credit average. But there are PLENTY of alternatives to studying Law or Medicine.

  • q

    Nutta for PM. You are a legend

    • Nutta

      The revolution is coming…

  • Who?

    Great article. Really like a lot of the ideas, but think some are unlikely. The one I think you’d find hardest at the moment is…
    Junior fees. Rugby is cheap. Seriously cheap compared to other clubs. But it’s arguably unsustainably cheap as is, and it’s only going to get dearer due to the ARU’s new levies. And, in the next year or so, the NSWRU will be forced to add the state-based levies that almost every other major union is already charging (it’s just lucky for them that the ARU didn’t take away that money yet, as they’ve done to other unions).
    With ARU levies of $27/player, plus insurance of $8/player, then factor in state affiliation fees of $20-$44/junior (that’s the current cost across most other unions), and you’re already above the $50/player. I think $50 a player would be a dream outcome and great for the game, I just don’t think it’s financially achievable in the foreseeable future. :-(

    • Nutta

      You don’t see it as a loss-lead item to stimulate roi via increased participation? In that case then we load up fees elsewhere to subsidise it for the first 3yrs to get it up and charging. Brutal, but it’s an investment for the future

      • Who?

        I absolutely see the point and value of it as a loss-leader, but I just don’t know that it’s possible to get it to happen. Because the costs would need to be shared. The clubs couldn’t afford it on their own. I don’t know that the NSWRU could afford it without help from the ARU. And the history of those two organizations – the NSWRU in particular, and the ARU – doesn’t inspire me with confidence that they’d see the value. :-(

  • Fernando Partridge

    Interesting article and food for thought, thanks for sharing.

    Perhaps I am in a minority of one but is there much wrong with the Shute Shield? It is, in my opinion, one of the only things which is good and pure about Australian rugby at the moment. I am sure there will be a better atmosphere in the Northern Beaches derby on Saturday than any Waratahs game this year.

  • The Shute Shield & QLD Premier Comps are the most important rugby comps in Australia. I’m going to keep this short.
    Why, it is Grass Roots.
    These clubs can touch the Juniors and provide the stepping stone.
    From School boy rugby to 1 of 5 Super teams is a gap to big.
    These clubs need to touch from the U6’s up, and sustaining that for 15 + years is what is required.
    Having the Tahs consistently train 2 days a week out west, and an open day with schools out there for an extended period will draw kids.
    Hard work brings return, passion, and strength, and this can be allot more powerful than the evil $.

  • Nutta

    Just want to say thanks to all contributors. Good chat and some good ideas. Whilst my ego would like to see my plan enacted, I hope the NSWRU do something as it would be a shame to see such an institution wither as it is and die – because if left unchecked it will.

  • Tim

    The West love to get behind a team. Just look at the Western Sydney Wanderers!

  • harro

    Thanks Nutta, both articles have been well-thought out and it’s good to see people talking about this. One thing not lacking in club rugby is passion and it’s a real pity this passion is neglected by the administrators.

    The number of teams per club needs to be reduced. Four grades and three colts teams is ridiculous. What other serious competition in any other sport anywhere in the world has such a structure?

    Thanks again for two really great articles.

  • Nutta

    Simple ideas – “Meat & potato first Boy. Then gravy.”

Shute Shield

Underfed front-rower with no speed or ball skills. Started playing footy in the 70's and still going. Can't remember the last time I passed on a ball, beer or karaoke mike. Motto - "Meat and potatoes first. Then gravy. And you don't put gravy on the plate first Boy."

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