Where to for the Shute Shield? - Green and Gold Rugby
Shute Shield

Where to for the Shute Shield?

Where to for the Shute Shield?

Along with a lot of others I read the Shute Shield results of Eastwood vs Penrith over last weekend with a mix of incredulity, a bit of sorrow for the Penrith boys and an extra dose of chagrin after the Super results of the weekend. But then it also got me thinking about the health and direction of Sydney rugby in general.

The Premier Sydney Shute Shield competition (let’s just call it Shute to keep it simple) used to be touted as the best club rugby in the world. Not so long ago (the 80’s and the early 90’s) the best players in the world came to Shute to test themselves. It also used to involve promotion and relegation as a lifeline of its competitive edge but that’s another matter.

The last Sydney team to get relegated from Shute was Drummoyne in the early 90’s. And it’s worth considering that whilst they were getting spanked week-in and week-out, they certainly weren’t copping the cricket scores that Penrith did (the worst I could find was 3rd grade with Gordon beating Drummoyne 103-0).

Since the 90’s there have been a few temporary visitors:

  • The Illawarriors were around in ’07. They won a game and finished last
  • The Central Coast Waves were invited to Shute for ’07, deferred that invite to ’08 but didn’t ever get their act together
  • Canberra is the only recent entry into Shute that did well. Basically they came in ’95, beat everyone although lost the GF to Gordon (incidentally that was the Highlanders last Premiership), got kicked out, went into the Qld comp and kicked the crap out of everyone there too.

So basically once Drummoyne got busted, aside from the occasional out-of-towner, the competition has remained static at the core dozen clubs. Thus like every closed group of genes it has turned to incest and been riven by self-interest that only result in self-harm. What we have seen come to pass has been a three-tiered outcome:

  • Eastwood, Wicks & Uni consistently at the top with Southo’s and Rats fading in and out
  • Southo’s and Rats are periodically joined by Easts, Norths & Manly
  • The cellar which is consistently Penrith & Parramatta with others coming & going

To back up my assessment above I encourage you to consider the Grand Finals of the new millennium (so including 2000):

  • Uni – 11 GF appearances for 8 Premierships
  • Woodies – 7 GF appearances & 4 Premierships
  • Wicks – 6 GF appearances & 2 Premierships
  • Rats – 2 GF appearances & 1 Premiership
  • Southo’s – 2 GF appearances & 0 Premierships
  • Easts have 1 appearance for a loss

So in probability terms of making the GF, Uni has 37%, Woodies have 23% and Wicks 20%. More simply, 3 clubs share an 80% probability of being in the GF in any given year. In probability terms of winning the GF, Uni has a staggering 53%, Woodies have 27% and Wicks 13%. More simply, 3 clubs share a 93% probability of being Premiers in any given year.

Syd Uni celebrates 140913D-4966.JPG

Now to be clear, I don’t blame Uni, Woodies or Wicks for their success. You don’t whack a dog for winning a fight. They have done very well and deserve congratulations – particularly Uni who were down, out and on the brink of relegation themselves until their Old Boys got their act into gear in the mid 90’s and staged a reformation of obvious success.

However no reader in a sound and reasonable state can claim that this type of dominance be-speaks a healthy and sustainable competition. All clubs and competitions see periods of fame & pain. But this dominance is of a magnitude that is unsustainable and we see the results in the public humiliation handed to the game last weekend where we see living proof of the gulf between NZ and Oz rugby replicated between East and West in what used to be the best club comp going around.

The momentum created by the dominating clubs creates a veritable vortex for talent that the others can do no more than resist for a time before imploding particularly in such a competitive sporting landscape as Sydney. We saw that a few years back with Parra when only an EU/Greek style bail-out prevented their implosion. We are seeing it again now with Penrith.

And so I have to ask the obvious question – where has the NSWRU and even the ARU been in all this? There have been attempts to change the lie of the land over the years. Whether these plans were smart or not I won’t go into that now. But what is clear is:

  • That would of meant a spreading of talent propagated by weighted distribution of funds to struggling clubs to allow them to “come up” until they were of a strength to stand alone
  • That these plans were shot down emphatically by guess which 3 power-house clubs (along with others of course)?

On a personal note I see this as a direct result of typical Sydney blue-blood rugby snobbery. This is classic of the elitist behaviour by a jealous seizing of a prize, denying it to all others, even to the point where they would compromise the health & continuance of the game rather than open up to the hairy unwashed from outside their cloistered towers of smug self-superiority and old-boy networks.

We see it time and time again with this salaam worshipping of the rugby-east and the down-right deliberate ignoring of the rugby-west unless it is to poach any players they have. I have to ask why does Sydney blue-blood rugby always behave with such myopia? Can anyone seriously say they do not recognise the benefit and opportunity in grass-roots players, leading to talent unearthing and audience-creation for rugby that lies in high-growth, younger-population areas west of Parramatta if we can just move beyond the snobbery & self-imposed restrictions of private-school elitism? Christ on a stick it’s almost as though the rugby-east-Moore Park connection WANTS to see the game in Sydney dry up because it’s actions (or clear lack thereof) clearly indicate they are just peachy-pie with what they see.

Anyway, leaving aside my ranting and propaganda in preparation for the coming of the Republic of Nutta (believe me the revolution is coming), my point is that in my opinion Shute is dead.

Maybe not next year, or even three years from now. But it is dead unless the NSWRU ensures it gets an injection of fresh blood through a restructure (as we all know the $$ aren’t there). All the signs are there: a rabidly uneven competition to the point where whole clubs are on the verge of oblivion, 5th grade and 4th grade across the competition are toast and even the big clubs are not as historically flash for numbers.

So what to do with it? One can whinge all they like – as do journalists and the ABC. Or else one can suggest an idea to fix it or at least begin a conversation that may uncover a solution. So to that end, whilst I have an idea or two I will share in in another instalment, I invite you guys to consider and respond:

  • Is Shute a healthy and sustainable competition in its current form (ie am I on drugs?)?
  • What should be done to improve it?
  • Jimmy James

    Relegation/promotion with Subbies?

    • footy4dayz

      YES!! Now there’s and idea

  • Hugh Cavill

    I agree with parts of this Nutta, and disagree with others.

    I think the tendency to blame the situation in Penrith on the NSWRU is misguided. Yes it’s an easy shot to take, and certainly they have a part to play, but the situation on the ground in Penrith is far more complex than a simple lack of investment. In fact $$$ is a bit down the list in what the club needs. What they have lacked for a few years now is skilled administrators and coaches, who can effectively harness the player base in and around Penrith and stop the drain to other clubs.

    Parramatta is a real success story, expanding their numbers and bettering their results in the past five years. That’s not because the NSWRU all of a sudden started investing in them, it’s because they had a team of skilled, intelligent administrators running the club.

    Parramatta is the reason the Shute Shield is a worthy product. Penrith needs work, but can be brought back- the player base in that area is such that if it can be effectively harnessed then the sky is the limit.

    I think the current issues with Penrith are far more nuanced than an East vs West thing, or a lack of care/cash from the NSWRU.

    • brumby runner

      So, is the only (or main) problem the lack of “skilled, intelligent administrators running the club.”? If so, how does that get fixed without some substantial injection of cash and some guidance/leadership from above?

      I’m not close enough to any of the clubs to know what the problems are, but I do think that Nutta has clearly outlined what he sees as being wrong. If it’s not just cash and help, then what else is needed?

  • Bubba

    I think the root of the problem (and in fact a solution) lies in the effectiveness of the Colts system.

    Much of the success of the top clubs is derived from recruitment after schoolboy rugby. Of the recent class of Aus schoolboys representatives, the majority have joined Randwick, Norths and Uni. This recruitment is driven from these clubs being able to offer the best resources to the players (coaching and training) as well as the opportunity to win championships. My issue with this is that some clubs can an inherent advantage in this recruitment process. Uni, for example, are able to offer students who go to the Uni a scholarship in the form of an Elite Athelete Scheme. Gordon is able to offer UTS scholarships. While other clubs, such as Penrith or Parramatta, do not have such incentives to offer.

    There needs to be a greater spread of the talent to other clubs. While the points system attempts to ensure this, clearly it is not working. The current table in Colts shows Randwick, Uni, Gordon and Norths dominating in all three grades. Therefore, I think the system needs to ensure greater spread of talent, which can then filter through to the Grade competition, making the Shute Shield more competitive.

  • Hack Ref

    Great Topic! But Rugby is a tough gig to get right! I would be keen for the following.

    All Division One Clubs in Subbies to be openly professional albeit nickle and dime sums of money. Then have the option to nominate for promotion or relegation to the Premier Comp. I can hear Wozza from Balmain saying YES!!!!

    Premier comp to be able to call on feeder clubs (Subbies) and pay a call-up fee for the player and club. (I know there’s no coin in rugby. But start it out with a few bucks so it may develop.) This allows for good grass roots players to climb the skill /ambition ladder and at the same time link the two competitions which is missing at the moment and vital to have. UK Soccer and USA Baseball have done this successfully for a million years.

    Premier Club Comp can grow in number to a maximum of 24 at a rate of 2 new per year and one Club being relegation per year back to Division 1.

    Premier Clubs to have only 1st and 2nd grade teams (60 players max) The rest go back to Subbies clubs. This promotes the links and reduces there operating costs. In turn increases the cash that can be paid to players.

    Sydney Colts Teams:

    All Clubs in Sydney can enter into a Colts Comp (Colts 1 ,2 & 3) Maximum of 90 players per club. The purpose of this is to promote good young players of the age of 17 to 21. Colts clubs can sign 6 Players from colts 1 teams each year for their senior teams this includes Premier 1st and Subbies Clubs (assume these are contracted players ). The rest make themselves available for a draft (contracted players) or join Subbies clubs..

    Development Clubs. There is always a good story for developing Western Suburbs Rugby. As well as North and South Coast Clubs as well. But essentially do this in Division one and two in Subbies then when strong enough they can nominate for promotion to the Premier Comp.

    The goal to this structure is to build a strong and successful grass roots player base and balance the Premier Clubs to make the competition strong.

    • Working Class Rugger

      There’s not enough room or money to support such a huge expansion. Diluting the talent pool is probably the exact opposite of what needs to happen. I do think your ‘feeder club’ idea would have some merit. The Premier clubs (well in Sydney anyway) could look to form partnerships with local subbies clubs to house players that wouldn’t otherwise play in the 1st grade squads. That’s right. The Premier clubs have to begin to solely focus on performance more so than participation. That means two squads of 25 across the board. The Premier squad and Colts 1.

      I think this would assist in the competitiveness issue. Some clubs tend to warehouse talent. While I number may be happy enough to play in the subbies affiliate others with more ambition will look elsewhere for opportunity.

      • Hack Ref

        I am not sure its costing more money. Most 3rd and 4ths premier guys are doing it for the love! They cost the club and they don’t make the turnstiles spin.

        I think by controlling the warehousing aspect is an issue. BTW I would count the Super players in the Quota.

  • Nick

    Thanks for the article. Not sure what the solution is but I know something needs to be done about Penrith. Parramatta is now pretty competent and they were in a similar place 10 years ago so they have a working model of how to succeed in the west. I think some of the Finals results are a bit skewed due to the return of Super Rugby players at the back end of the Shute Shield season. Yes, Sydney Uni and Eastwood are generally always at the top but the other sides give it a fair shake before the inevitable return of Super players. Manly and Warringah are good examples of sides that can dominate the regular season but lack the star power returning from Super Rugby.

  • Neil Thomas

    This really got started with the poor way Australian rugby took on the professional game, a bit like the dopy 60 games for the Wallabies and you can play overseas rule they’ve just introduced that won’t last beyond the World Cup. John O’Neill and his cohorts were so freaked out when Newcastle in England refused to release players for international duty that the ARU decided to make sure that could never happen in Australia by setting out to virtually destroy the clubs. At one stage they were even demanding that all clubs pool their cash balances that worked as ‘designed’ by dividing the clubs and preventing them becoming a united block that might one day challenge the authority of the ARU. And the reason it was … shot down emphatically by guess which 3 power-house clubs (along with others of course?

    Add to this the rise of the academies at the Super rugby clubs, which from a Randwick supporter perspective, manages to change really talented youngsters into automatons with, as one ex-Wallaby is fond of quoting: “huge arms with little ability to pass the ball” and it’s easy to see how the clubs have gone into decline. The so-called elite players no longer return to play for their ‘real’ clubs and pass on some of the things they have ‘learnt’. Instead we have a totally meaningless misnomer of a ‘Club Championship’ that serves only to keep contracted players running around with a degree of intensity that falls
    way, way short of a Colts grand final. Yet no international football code can really survive without a viable club system. Notice how Australia has not come within a bull’s roar of winning a World Cup since the players (Eales, Campese, Lynagh, etc.) that were brought up through the old club system retired.

    So what to do about ‘an unbalanced’ Shute Shield that didn’t seem to be a problem when Randwick ran away with the comp year after year, so long as they kept up a continuous stream of Wallabies? As most correspondents have pointed out this is a very difficult problem and set to get a lot a lot more complicated when the scholarship/sponsorship deals by
    Sydney University and Randwick really takes a grip on the Colts competition and reduces it to little more than a contest between the two clubs and ultimately perhaps weaken further the grade competition.
    A good place to start would be:-

    · The money that goes into the lifeless Club Championship should instead be invested in the Sydney-ACT and Brisbane club competitions;
    · An Australian Super 14 player not selected on the bench should that week play in club football;
    · A ‘loan’ system should be put in place whereby players not regular choices in first or second grade could be offered to struggling clubs by way of a loan system that allows the player to train with his club but play grade on the weekend.

    As for the Shute Shield being dead…well Long Live the real club comp

    • Adog

      Well written Neil. The problems with rugby and its development are not that complicated, unfortunately those who could

  • Fleet

    I think a major opportunity was lost when the NRC was created. Much better IMHO would have been a national comp (round robin or knockout) from each season’s top 4 (say) Shute Shield teams, similar teams from the Brisbane comp, the top 1 or 2 country NSW, Canberra and country QLD teams plus a Melb team and maybe 1 or 2 “Barbarian” teams.
    This would have reinvigorated the Shute Shield, built on existing clubs and supporters and built a national comp, a bit like the NRL.
    Maybe next time…..

  • Roy

    Uni ruined the Shute Shield absolutely no question about it.

  • Roy

    The best rugby without a doubt is a toss up between GPS Rugby on a Sat arvo or the Shute Shield. Its fire and brimstone played with pure unadulterated passion.

    Everything else is second best and that goes for Super Rugby (yawn) and Wallabies. The players in the former teams bust their boilers and rarely if ever give up even if the cause is lost. Long may it continue

  • paul

    The problem with the above structure is simply the failure of Super rugby to engage an audience in Australia,

  • paul

    What i mean is these structures may suit a mature rugby country like NZ but it does jack s__t in Australia.

    The problems we have are all due to the failure of the super rugby to gain enough penetration in the domestic market.

    You have to address that to have any chance of improving things.
    But first you have to identify why Super rugby is such a failure here against the other codes.

  • Paul

    But the problem is we went from amateur to Super rugby without building the fan base to support it. Its the upside down tree, when the code went professional it needed to appeal to a greater audience. But all that happened was bingo Super rugby and nothing changed.

    None of the structural issues that needed to be dealt with at that time were addressed, yes pay TV pay the bills but at the same time restricts rugby from growing, the code is simply going round in circles.

    The code is paying for the short term fixes applied from day one, but to me the biggest issue is that long term without addressing Super rugby failures nothing will change.
    Grassroots, club rugby, shute shield,tests all need a vibrant super rugby(or equivalent) to attract consumer interest. This is where the growth is driven from ie: AFL/NRL/ it is Super rugby’s job to grow the game here, and it isn’t.
    Take last weekend what a fantastic game, but how many people here watched or even new about it, how does that benefit the game here.

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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