Would a National Club Championship work? (Spoiler Alert: NO) - Green and Gold Rugby
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Would a National Club Championship work? (Spoiler Alert: NO)

Would a National Club Championship work? (Spoiler Alert: NO)

At the start of this I will confess something to you all. I absolutely love the NRC. I think it is a great concept, inclusive of the wider rugby community and when done well by the states, a great pathway to develop next level Super Rugby players.

I absolutely admit that it struggles to tug at heartstrings given there is no sense of tribal loyalty to any of the teams (Force fans excluded), but team names aside there are reasons for that. One of the main ones is that in Queensland, the whole model of game hosting has been decentralised- so when Brisbane City play it could be at any ground in Brisbane, and Queensland Country, it could be anywhere in the state. Same for NSW Country and also Melbourne Rising who have taken games to Adelaide as well as regional Victoria. This is more than club rugby does and likely ever will.

That said, Brisbane City still manage to pull some decent crowds, certainly no worse than the Queensland Premier Rugby crowds. And what’s more, it is a more diverse crowd- with families, juniors and people from across town coming. You do not get that in QPR, where a good chunk of the crowds are the Colts and Grades teams hanging around. Games and atmospheres are not good for the neutral supporter, which is precisely who you should be trying to attract.

What NRC is about- suburban grounds and upcoming players

What NRC is about- suburban grounds and upcoming players

With that defence of the NRC out of the way it was very interesting to see an article of Fox Sports that promoted the idea of a National Club Championship. You can read it for yourselves but the essence of it was this: 10 clubs each from Brisbane and Sydney, two from Canberra, two from Perth and one from Melbourne playing in a format similar to the European Rugby comps in that they are wedged in with the club seasons. The author bagged the NRC mercilessly, which is an interesting move given they are the operation that broadcasts it.

This would extend the club season out past the end of Super Rugby and cover time currently used by the NRC to create a solid chunk of football from March until October or so. Teams playing in pools until knockout phases leading up to a final, presumably before a packed house full of fans. Away trips with the boys to Melbourne to watch Bond Uni take on the Unicorns..

Sounds great doesn’t it? It does, up until the point you look at it for more than two seconds.

First up is the cost of this whole program. You have a governing body who couldn’t afford to sack a coach 12 months ago and has been looking to cut costs at all corners now being expected to cough up travel, logistics, operations and management of a 25 team competition over several months. I totally understand you can defray the costs with TV rights and sponsorship but given the parlous state of affairs would people be lining up to pay for it? Maybe in year four or five if it successful, but up front?

Second is the impact on the clubs themselves. The European comps work because they are professional clubs, that are well resourced and able to efficiently manage playing lists, recovery, rehab and the like. Sydney and Brisbane clubs are not professional let alone the others so how would they manage? How would the players be able to travel and prepare and recover when the vast majority of them are working or studying? For this model to work  you are essentially asking the clubs to be closer to professional than amateur which involves yet more resourcing and money.

Third is this tribalism infects club rugby. I am lucky in that I didn’t go to a big school in Brisbane or play colts and grade there so I don’t hold a real affinity to one club other than geographically but the outward lack of co-operation and hostility between people simply based on the colour of their jersey is beyond belief. Which is what makes club rugby great in some ways but far too insular in others. To be frank, no one is going to care when Southern Districts play Uni Owls, and even less people will travel to watch it. Certainly few people outside of those two clubs will care about the result unless you are one of the crazed neutrals.

The article says that no one backs the made up teams because they have no history and no roots. It might be so but it is also pretty illogical. It wasn’t that long ago that the Brumbies, Force and Rebels were created too and (perhaps with the exception of the Rebels) they have succeeded. The point is all history has to have a starting point so why not just accept that and move on?

The problem with the “lack of roots” argument is this. If you stayed tied to the old clubs model in a National Comp, you are essentially telling any punter outside of the geographic area of the team that they aren’t included or worthy of seeing games. People will go to see City vs Country in Gladstone but I can’t imagine this proposed competition will see Randwick play Nedlands in Dubbo. You are locking the old school and club ties in place and making the game harder for neutrals or regionals to access, not easier.

Finally, this is the place where we all have a spot of honesty. Rugby is on the nose in this country. Neutrals have deserted the Wallabies and Super Rugby teams, ratings are down, and various controversies have taken their toll. The outcome of the World Cup hasn’t helped at all. Had we been at the top of cycle coming off a win, big crowds and flush with cash, it might be the time to try something like this out but none of this is so.

Country v Country- totally neglected under a National Club model

Country v Country- totally neglected under a National Club model

 

We are living in a world where media providers are craving for content, be it free to air, pay TV or the online world. They churn through sports and genres like nothing else, and this competition would achieve that goal- the likelihood of 70 plus games as opposed to around 30 for the NRC gives the media market just that. But to what end? When would all the games be broadcast, would the deal enable a full time rugby channel to be developed- or would only one to two games a week be televised with the rest being streamed? If that’s the case, how would that fund the money needed to run the comp?

This is not to say the NRC is perfect, far from it. The NSW teams are a laughing stock and the marketing and promotion of it is almost non existent. But it has great benefits that are consistently ignored. The NRC takes games of good quality rugby to places where they would not otherwise go. It provides a genuine identified pathway for players to gain Super Rugby contracts and anyone who has been to a game cannot deny that it is bringing a lot more families and people from outside the club bubble to rugby games. All of this is a great thing for the grassroots.

More consideration needs to be given to actually promoting the NRC as an exciting competition where established stars and new up and comers can play and win. Outside of the rugby community I would doubt most people even know it is on, let alone who won the competition. Surely as the broadcaster there is some onus on Fox to be a part of that, as opposed to tearing down the comp and proposing an unviable behemoth as the alternative.

 

  • Greg Skelly

    The NRC is a great competition with I believe significant potential if packaged and promoted in the right way. I have to agree with much of what has been said in the article. A NCC wouldn’t achieve much of anything in my opinion.

    RA needs to look at the structure of the NRC and decide what they want it to really be. I think it should be a competition to bring both SR and GRR teams together. Marketed in much the same way as the BBL. Played across 6-8 teams over 6-7 weeks leading into the Nov. tour window featuring our best talent both established and up and coming. Innovative law variations focusing on providing the maximum entertainment value.

  • Who?

    Great article Ben. :-)

  • Gun

    Enjoyed the article Ben, a lot of common sense there. Is the malaise we find rugby in here big enough to defeat the establishment in Sydney and to a smaller extent Brisbane? The status quo is inward looking but the future of a successful comp here must be beyond the eastern suburbs of the East coast.

  • OnTheBurst

    I might be missing something here, but I thought the most glaringly obvious reason why a national club comp won’t be as good as an NRC-style set up, is one of QUALITY.

    First grade club teams might have a sprinkling of top calibre guys, Super or even Test level if they are lucky, plus a few guys who are pushing for fringe Super level now or in the future. But then you have a bunch of guys for whom 1st grade club will be their absolute ceiling.

    Whereas because of the nature of the NRC where each team is 1 level better than 1st grade clubs, NRC teams are made up of a bunch of guys who at worst are top club level guys, and at best are already playing Super level or are putting their hand up for Super selection.

    I would have thought this makes for better skills, a generally higher quality of play and better rugby to watch? Not to mention that it provides the really important stage to allow club guys to prove themselves and step up into Super level – just like the NPC does in NZ.

    I think the biggest thing people get hung up on (rightly so) is the lack of tribalism with NRC. But as Ben says, you need to give it a chance. The Brumbies were a manufactured team, as were the Force, as were the Rebels.

    Being smart about promotion and location of games (e.g. why not create a grudge match between NSW Country and QLD Country, etc) is a huge part of this.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Seb V

    Nice realistic article. It’s easy to criticise a competition but in reality Australia doesn’t have the market for a club competition. We don’t have the population, not enough people love rugby, and the RA doesn’t have the money. I wish for a better competition too with promotions and relegation like the French or English comp. But that is 100 years away. Until then, let’s promote the NRC and super XV, both are great comps in there own right under the circumstances.

  • Crescent

    Thanks Ben – appreciated the article. I find the bagging of the NRC perplexing when it has been so poorly and chronically under promoted. A couple of points to rectify some of the deficiencies of the current NRC:

    1. Free to air coverage.
    2. Game time close to prime time – we are cutting out a large potential audience with afternoon kick off.
    3. Patience. No credible competition came out of the blocks on fire. They all have taken time to develop.
    4. Promote, promote, promote. People can’t attend if they don’t know it is on. If the organising body doesn’t tell anyone, is a competition really happening?

    As for the tribal aspect – that is a decision of the relevant clubs. They could choose to support the competition and boast about how many players are getting a chance at higher honours and using it as a recruitment tool. If/when the competition starts generating revenue in it’s own right, a payment per player to the relevant club would help – but we need to crawl, then walk before we can run – a financial incentive is impossible until we can run.

    The real risk of a national club competition is further consolidation amongst the top clubs with revenue opportunities and talent attraction and retention to the detriment of broader participation and development. In NSW, already the least well off clubs are “responsible” for developing the largest geographical areas whilst the richest clubs cherry pick from the school boys pathways (eg Beale) and continue to make plenty of bank whilst junior participation continues to decline, not giving a shit until they run out of talent to poach.

  • AllyOz

    Before I commented I thought it best to read Christy Doran’s article so I could comment more fully. Having now read it, I must confess that I am as scared now for the quality of Australian rugby writing as I am for the state of the game itself. If this reflects an underlying agenda from Foxsports then perhaps that may explain why such a poorly researched poorly written article would be written. Otherwise, I can’t explain why you would bother. Ben’s article makes a lot more sense and I have got to say that, when I have seen “amateur” writers put arguments both for and against the NRC or an Australian Club Championship, they have made more sense than the Doran article.

    Firstly, there are some straight up errors. He claims that fans that can’t follow the Super Rugby teams wouldn’t be able to build support for NRC teams and names the Melbourne Rising and the Sydney Rays as his two examples. Well, at least the NRC teams still carry their location in their team names and by mentioning the Sydney Rays he is either being dishonest, deliberately misleading or hasn’t does his research. The team in 2019 is just called Sydney and has adopted the traditional Sydney strip.

    He makes claims about tribablism but, as Ben and others point out, there is not a lot of following for many Sydney and Brisbane Clubs outside their immediate areas. That isn’t to say people don’t recognise their names, I can reel off all the Brisbane, Sydney and probably most of the Canberra clubs but I hold no affection for them one way or the other. I don’t understand the significance of one beach side Sydney suburb playing another one because it’s not part of my lived experience. I understand which clubs to love and hate in Brisbane because I played their but I also understand that someone in Gunghallin won’t probably understand the significance of GPS Old Boys vs UQ or Souths vs Brothers. I think the NRC, by naming the sides Sydney and NSW Country, Brisbane City and Qld Country has tried to tap into that tribalism and for me that actually works. As a young rugby player my ambition wasn’t to play for the Wallabies, that was clearly beyond me, but I did want to play for NSW Country and that is why I support them in the NRC even though it doesn’t necessarily reflect their underlying identity.

    If you believe in the cohesion work of Ben Darwin, i don’t see how spreading your talent across 24 – 30 domestic teams actually works to built that.

    Doran gives no consideration to costs, to availability of players (at my Brisbane based club in the 1990/2000s we were scratching to field lower grade teams towards the end of the season due to injuries and other commitments and had blokes doubling up on occasions to make up the numbers). This would impact on the quality of those teams. We also don’t have any conception at this stage of the relative levels of ability etc across those teams, how competitive they would be against each other and what that means in terms of safety.

    Concentrating the talent pool makes sense for a number of reason; economic, sporting and other.

    I think the main issue with NRC is finding the best time to run it so that it doesn’t compete with club, ensuring that the best available talent are playing in it and ensuring it has good financial backing and is able to grow (not in numbers of teams but in quality of competition and exposure and following). That might mean co-ordinating club competitions so that they are clearly finished by start of NRC. If it is one when we are playing an expanded Rugby Championship (and that means there are only 2-3 internationals on TV at night) there should be a window for some additional games.

    For mine it is a great vehicle to get exposure out in country areas. I have been to a couple of games of NRC whilst I no longer attend Super Rugby anymore. For me, this is the right demographic and the right price point – the standard is good, the matches competitive and you are watching some very talented players, particularly young players.

    I would also say that it shouldn’t be used primarily as a development exercise, if you have the best players playing in it you will get the best development opportunities anyway. Ideally, I would like to see a merger of the GRR and NRC as i think this is the best opportunity to build a solid financial model, a better chance of FTA coverage, and perhaps some World Rugby money to support the Pacific Nations who participate.

    The only way I could see NCC working would be, at the end of the domestic club season that the top 6 from Sydney, top 4 from Qld and the finalists from each of the other comps play in a short comp with any Super Rugby players that aren’t represented by those clubs being drafted out to help support numbers. However, I don’t think that would be as good a solution as the other option. English Premier Rugby is sometimes used as a point of comparison by blokes like Brett Papworth but they have 12 highly professional teams, many banked by independent owners with significant personal wealth. They are only 12 so that would mean any national comp here couldn’t carry all Brisbane, Sydney, ACT and Perth etc teams – we would need rationalisation of the club space for that. The Premiership is also built on substantial numbers of imports so, for the standard to be maintained at the same level with English players alone, it might only be able to sustain 8 teams or less?? It isn’t a good comparison.

    I hope the NRC doesn’t get dumped again. I really think we need this level in some form. I think it can be improved but I would like it to stay. Although I have club ties I don’t think that club rugby can fill the gap that NRC could fill if it is able to grow.

    I hope it stays and I fear if it doesn’t this time, then the clubs and those with vested interests will bury it forever.

    • AllyOz

      an example of a superior anti-NRC argument to Doran’s on GAGR is the following

      http://www.greenandgoldrugby.com/the-case-for-scrapping-the-nrc/

      it suggests another model which I think might work – post a shortened SR – the Australian SR sides (minus their Wallabies reps) plus Fiji and the Western Force (and perhaps a couple more of the GRR sides) play a home and away comp whilst the Rugby Championship is on.

    • Bernie Chan

      Alas. Christy Doran is one of the rugby scribes who constantly types out dross. I expect he is a qualified journalist, so can only surmise that he has an agenda of some sort. To ignore the significant cost impost is telling in that is shows he hasn’t done any research or critical analysis…is he just paraphrasing what someone else is telling him?

      The NRC is a step up from Premier Rugby (I assume it is a step up from Shute Shield as well…?) and this is important for players aspiring to become full time pros in Super Rugby.

      • AllyOz

        mate I am more of a follower of Premier rugby than Shute Shield myself – I have watched the games on tele. I would think that most NRC teams are superior to Shute Shield teams except in the finals when Uni and a couple of other have a few Waratahs playing.

    • idiot savant

      Really well argued Ben and Ally Oz. As On the Burst says below what Doran ignores is the primary purpose of the NRC is to provide a level between club and super rugby that can help develop our players to be more competitive when they graduate and on to the Wallabies. I have seen both Premier Rugby and Shute shield games in the last 4 years and I am in no doubt that the NRC is a step up. Its certainly quicker and while I would have argued Shute Shield was more physical 5 years ago I wouldn’t now. NSW Country really brought physicality this year which was great to see. And the results of the NRC are coming.

      Now Doran is familiar with Mitre 10 Cup and NZ has the advantage of those regions with some minor changes having predated Super Rugby. They were tribal already.

      For a club championship in Australia to work as a next level competition as you have argued would mean significant changes to existing club systems. You would need to split the Brisbane and Sydney competitions, take the best / richest / highest following teams out (say 4 from each) and then add 1 from Canberra, Perth and Melbourne. 11 teams, a few less than Mitre 10 cup. Then you would need to ask Twiggy for his entire 50 million to ensure those clubs brought all the best players in the country and a few star imports, and the staff to make them fully professional. Then maybe after 3 or 4 years you might have something. Anything less than that wont provide the step up.

      The NRC is a far cheaper alternative. It just needs people from NSW to become tribal and follow their 2 teams. It took 20 years of state of origin league games to make NSW people tribal about their home state, and Im not sure people from Sydney still really care. When you are the centre of the universe everywhere else is tribal except you. Its a hubris that bedevils our largest city. And gets in the way of good policy!

    • Who?

      Worth noting, on the English Premier League, that the current clubs are looking ring fence it, removing promotion/relegation, as the clubs that are in that promotion/relegation zone only ever remain at the higher level when they find a billionaire looking to lose some cash. So whilst people talk it up as a concept, it’s dying overseas.

  • Happyman

    Good read ben for mine the best available solution would be a knockout style competition (FA Cup) style. you could literally have every club team in Australia in it culminating in a final. Out would give very club a chance of making a run. Imagine Dubbo V Sydney Uni in Dubbo as an example. According to Mr Google Australia has approx 770 rugby clubs and that would make a bout 8 rounds of knockouts.

    NRC has to stay it is getting better and gaining more traction year on year.

    Hopefully you continue your contributions next year.

  • Howard

    Outstanding write up Ben

  • LBJ

    I appreciate your enthusiasm – but this is simply a Peter-Pan interpretation of reality and the future.

    Fox sports have paid for the NRC for five years and it is simply not bearing any fruit – No ratings, no subscribers, no advertising, empty stadiums, the core rugby community in the key rugby states (historically and financially) don’t like it and not even the players like it.

    So Fox have pulled out – pretty unsurprising really.

    Fox are a listed company, so they are answerable to their shareholders (unlike ARU unfortunately) so they don’t have a right to make bad, emotional investments. I don’t really see any other reasonable response than appreciation to Fox for trying.

    So the NRC will be cancelled after next year unless someone else will pay for it – which I guesstimate is about $10m per season. And while there is plenty of money in the rugby community, no one in their right mind will stump up that kind of cash for a dog.

    An alternative is being floated in Doran’s article which is far from perfect, but has some elements that make sense, and deserves serious discussion.

    But if there is interest on this forum in any kind of national competition- it deserves some constructive thought. What is being thrown up by GGR is simply unintelligent fantasy: “Why don’t they promote it?” – with what? Who is paying for that? – you? The ARU?! No- it’s some kind of very specific imaginary benefactor;
    – someone who is not from Sydney or Brisbane (because they are all Assholes),
    – someone who has no affiliation with an existing rugby club (because they are all Assholes).
    – But someone who has around $100million they don’t know what to do with – oh, and they obviously don’t want a return on their investment.

    A national competition is a good idea – but the current design is dead – how do we combine the strengths we have in traditional Aussie rugby communities, with the ambitions of growth regions? That’s the challenge- if it was easy, it would have been solved long ago.

    A couple of principles for mine:
    – keep the ARU out of it – they have an inverse Midas touch…
    – leverage the heritage and tribalism I the game today
    – it has to be viable in Sydney and Brisbane to make sense (it’s wjere the players and $ are
    – that means engaging with the clubs in a meaningful way, whether you like it or not
    – the competition has to have its own integrity – it cannot be a series of trial matches for super rugby
    – a hybrid model should be investigated

    • Blue Bill

      I tend to agree. I can’t stand Doran and his articles, and there are plenty of holes in his proposal, but at least he’s offering something up while factoring in rugby’s only strength right now (club rugby).

      I love the NRC, but it was always an uphill battle with the lack of funding provided for it, and at least Fox has given it a chance (although very odd that Doran would bash it given who he works for). As long as it’s wedged in between a stubborn club competition with history on its side and a televised, professional competition like SR, it will always struggle with support and popularity. How is the casual fan supposed to know to support it? Naturally you gravitate towards the highest level of competition.

      The real question for me is whether we continue with SR long term… we’re bleeding money from it and losing popularity every year. It’d be great if NRC stayed and replaced SR, with SR’s current funding going towards it. That way, it could have a real chance of survival and growth.

  • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

    Dropping the NRC for a Club competition is clearly a dumb idea. RA should not even give it oxygen however I will not be surprised if they get this wrong. NSWRU tends to get their way at the cost of rugby.

  • Adrian

    Thanks Ben.
    My thoughts are:
    I think NRC is great, but not marketed in Sydney much.
    I think NRC should have Shute Shield finalists + Sydney (leftovers) + Country + Brisbane finalists + Brisbane + Country + ACT + Melbourne + Perth + Central Australia (Adelaide, Darwin)= 12 teams. Higher Level than Shute Shield, but probably keep Shute Shield players and spectators engaged. Shute Shield gets good crowds, bigger than most NRC games.

    It is a fine line between trying to expand the game and looking after the heartland. Games in W.Sydney get hardly any spectators, but games at Manly get 12,000

    • Who?

      The problem with dragging in clubs is that it inhibits planning for the teams. If you’re Brisbane City, you want to know your list well in advance. If you’re not sure who your players are until a week before the comp starts, it significantly hinders your capacity to put together a team. That stability is what’s helped all the other regions consistently beat up on NSW teams who are always hindered by access to Shute players.
      .
      And it means that the Shute clubs will still largely ignore the NRC, because only the winning team will go through (and then be promptly annihilated by the Force, Vikings, Rising, etc).
      .
      It’s not about trying to expand the game, it’s about trying to have a competition at a higher standard than an amateur (half) city-based competition.

  • Charcoal

    I agree with most commentators here that I can’t see an NCC being viable, firstly because it still maintains that NSW and Qld bias and secondly because it’s unaffordable with so many clubs and travel and accommodation costs involved.

    It remains to be seen whether Super Rugby will survive beyond the current broadcast deal, when both public interest and ratings, at least in Australia, have slipped alarmingly. I for one wouldn’t be disappointed if it was put out of its misery and cancelled once and for all. I’ve never thought it was a viable competition spread across multiple time zones and with the cost of sending teams half way around the world.

    In its place I propose an expanded fully professional NRC played over the whole season from March to June on a home and away basis with a two week finals series, which would finish prior to the inbound international series. It would run in tandem with the respective State Premier competitions which could be extended to allow for a full home and away season with finals into late September.

    A further option is to have a Champions League after the international series between the premier teams in each of the respective domestic competitions in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina, which is effectively an abridged version of Super Rugby, without the costs. The Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship (SHRC) would follow. It’s a logical progression.

    My suggestion for the makeup of the NRC competition is for 8 teams initially, with Brisbane North and South; Sydney North, South and West; Canberra, Melbourne and Perth. Sorry, but I don’t agree with Country teams from NSW and Qld when they are essentially made up of players from their respective Premier club competitions.

    If the Country teams had a significant proportion of Country based players, then that would be a different matter, but that’s not the case. Talented players from the Country are recruited by the city Premier clubs. That doesn’t preclude the city based teams in Sydney and Brisbane playing some of their home games in country regional areas.

    I don’t agree with teams such as the Fijian Drua being included in what is a domestic competition. Aside from the costs involved, the development of South Pacific Island Rugby is the responsibility of World Rugby.

    The NSW and Qld NRC teams are at a somewhat disadvantage compared with the one city teams in Canberra, Melbourne and Perth, in that their fully professional Super Rugby players are split between multiple teams. The most talented club players from the respective Premier competitions in Sydney and Brisbane to make up the teams don’t have the advantage of a fully professional environment to come up to speed compared with their professional colleagues in such a short timeframe. If these same players were recruited as full-time professionals over a longer NRC season, then they would reap the benefit of enhanced training and conditioning and in the process lift the standard of their respective teams. I don’t see this as being a threat to the existing Premier competitions, particularly in Sydney and Brisbane, as they could co-exist, just as they do with Super Rugby as it stands.

    You may well question how a domestic competition such as an expanded NRC could attract the same broadcast revenue as Super Rugby, but the latter hasn’t exactly contributed to a positive outcome for Australian Rugby. It’s gone backwards.

    If the AFL, NRL and Soccer’s A-League can survive on the broadcast revenue and sponsorships for their respective domestic competitions, then why can’t Rugby? Like Soccer, it has the advantage of an international profile and it should emphasise this factor.

    • Who?

      Your argument against Country regions having a team has some logic, but ignores the logic with how players are largely divided between the Qld teams. Country kids get recruited to the city to join squads, or to go to Uni, and end up in the club comps. But that doesn’t mean they can’t then retain a link to the country by playing for a Country team. The NRC squads still have some ‘origin’ sort of feel – in Qld, at least.
      .
      The Drua, if they don’t play with us, who else do they play? In NZ? I don’t see the issue.
      .
      Your point about NSW and Qld NRC teams being significantly disadvantaged by playing single-team cities doesn’t bear out. Because we’ve had six NRC’s now, with one win to the Drua, two to WA (one for the Spirit, one for the Force), two to Brisbane City, and one to Qld Country. So, 50% of the time, the comp’s been won by teams who aren’t single-team cities.
      .
      IN terms of the money thing… Rugby doesn’t have the money that League and AFL draw in. It’s crazy to think they’ll have that in even the medium term. They survive due to incumbency and momentum.
      Soccer survives because they charge their juniors a fortune and their elite players aren’t on the local payroll (how many Socceroos play in the A League?). So, NRC revenue would only work as our top competition if we’re then prepared to have to fly in our players from Europe for every Test, and camp. If we’re happy to allow the primary fitness/conditioning/medical support for these players to be handled by European clubs.

      • paul

        The catch 22 is how much of that lack of money is due to persevering with Super rugby for 20 years.

        A competition so structurally flawed and unsuited to the Australian market that it has overseen the slow but steady demise of the codes support in this country, to the extent now that any alternative is immediately met with “Theirs no money”, so then what is the definition of stupid.

        • Who?

          You’ve hated Super Rugby for years, we’ve spoken about it before. Whereas without it, many like myself wouldn’t have had an ‘in’ to the game (I don’t have elbow patches on a tweed jacket). Super Rugby has served Australia well for the majority of its existence. And it’s not the cause of the lack of money – because of Super Rugby, we have a vibrant Rugby community in WA, we’re developing one in Melbourne, and the ACT has been further strengthened compared to pre-96. You’re unwilling to consider that it’s done any good, or helped to fund the game.
          .
          The structural flaws in the competition have only existed in this decade (less than 10 years out of the 24 completed seasons). They are not the primary reason for Australian Rugby having no money.
          .
          The original commenter stated that Australian Rugby’s gone backwards under Super Rugby, implying because of Super Rugby. You’ve stated similar. I’m not sure that’s proven, or provable. I think it’s fair to say the game has expanded. The real question is, ‘How has the game gone backwards as a result of Super Rugby?’
          .
          I think there’s a very strong argument that the results of the Wallabies have seen the code struggle, but the Wallabies’ results are down to coaching and structures, not the competition. After all, under Super Rugby, there’s been 6 RWC’s, and 5 of those have been won by SANZAR nations. In 2015, all 4 Semi-Finalists were SAANZAR nations. So clearly it’s possible to develop players well through Super Rugby into strong national teams.
          .
          However, my point is that something like the AFL and NRL can only be viable in Australia because of the incumbency, because of the time they’ve sunk into developing their code, their base, and their connections. If we want a viable professional domestic competition, which I believe the NRC can develop into being (it’s already a viable competition, just not professional), we can’t expect it to go from ‘covering costs’ to ‘primary revenue source’ in an off season. It needs time.
          .
          I don’t believe we can expect volunteer-run amateur clubs to develop into professional setups, certainly not at anywhere near a workable pace to maintain the game in Australia.

        • Charcoal

          You asked the question “How has the game gone backwards as a result of Super Rugby?”. I think the answer to that should be bleedingly obvious. Crowds are down, TV audiences are down, no Australian Super Rugby team has won the competition in the last 5 years and we’ve lost one team. Add to that the Wallabies’ decline in the world rankings, which I’ll readily concede is in part due to the coaching structure. If that’s not going backwards, then I don’t know what is. You can hardly say with a straight face that the code is thriving in Australia.

          I mean, how many fans actually watch live Super Rugby games played in South Africa and Argentina in the early morning hours? Sure, you can record it, but by the time you watch it you probably already know the result. Nothing can replace watching a game live during more respectable hours when the result is uncertain.

          The problem with the current NRC is that the season is too short and Premier Club players drafted into the competition, through no fault of their own, don’t have enough time to come up to the same level of fitness and training as their fully professional team mates. Hence my suggestion for an expanded NRC played over a longer season in place of Super Rugby, with a fully professional roster from the beginning. As I said earlier it could co-exist with the Premier State competitions, just as Super Rugby currently does.

          I’m not suggesting that an expanded NRC would be easy to implement, but something radical has to be tried to arrest the current decline in the code and win back supporters. We may have no other option if Super Rugby is disbanded. If you can come up with a better idea, then I’d love to hear it.

        • Who?

          So, the game’s gone backwards because of Super Rugby because we’re not performing in Super Rugby..? I don’t debate that Rugby’s struggling. The point of the question was to frame the trajectory of the game. If you’d said it was struggling compared to the 80’s, then it’s a lot easier to say Super Rugby is the cause. But you’ve said, “Crowd numbers are down … We haven’t won in a few years.” They’re markers inside Super Rugby, not markers that indicate Super Rugby’s damaging the game in a broader sense.
          .
          I also don’t debate that Super Rugby has been contorted into horrible shapes. The Conference concept was fine, but the implementation – with unequal numbers, and the location of the splits – was insane. The complaints that people don’t watch SA games, though, are a bit hollow. Yes, there’s more SA games now than originally (though fewer than we had before the Kings and Cheetahs went north), but it’s equally valid to ask how many people watch every NRL/AFL game each weekend.
          .
          So, with all that, I’d contend that the issue isn’t ‘Super Rugby’, as a concept, it’s the version of Super Rugby that we have now. Certainly compared to what it originally was. Which begs the question, do you throw the baby out with the bathwater, or do you go back to clean water? I’d love to add the Force back in, and go to a straight round robin comp. 17 rounds, 2 byes each, 6 team finals, done. It’d be an easy short term solution to improving the competition, maybe saving it for a little longer.
          .
          In terms of an expanded NRC, I really think that should be the long term goal. I’ve thought that for a while. But I think it needs to be transitioned, rather than instantaneous. We need the NRC to continue to bed in and grow, and if it can do that behind SR for a few more years, that’s no bad thing.

        • Charcoal

          I will concede that my criticism of Super Rugby is more related to its most recent incarnations of the competition in its quest to expand beyond its original format of a round robin competition between equal numbers of teams in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Super 15 was probably the pinnacle of the competition where every team played each other.

          When they started introducing additional teams from Argentina and Japan, including from South Africa, culminating in the conference system, that’s when it lost me and I’m sure many other fans in Australia as well. SAANZAR or whatever it’s called, got too far ahead of itself in trying to take on the world. However, the fact remains that it no longer resonates with Australian Rugby supporters. Who gives a stuff how successful it may or not be in the other participating countries? We have to look after our own backyard.

          We still don’t know what the format of the competition will be in 2021 after expiry of the current broadcast agreement next year, assuming it survives. One thing we do know is that the Sunwolves are out and if they survive as a team, then they would be better off playing in the Japanese domestic competition. I’ve never agreed with the concept of mixing domestic competitions between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, when one or the other is playing out of season. International matches are an entirely different matter.

          If Super Rugby can revert to its earlier simpler round robin format of 15 teams, with 5 teams each from Australia (including the Force), New Zealand and South Africa, then there might be a chance that it could revive its previous following in the Australian market. Sorry, I can’t see a place for the Jaguars. It remains to be seen how this will pan out.

          In saying that, I’ve always had some misgivings about the spread of Super Rugby across the multiple time zones for a domestic competition. Ideally, it would just be a Trans-Tasman competition between Australian and New Zealand teams which are in more friendly time zones. However, that’s unlikely to happen as New Zealand wouldn’t be interested without including teams from South Africa.

          Hence my argument that Australia would be better off going it alone in the longer term with its own fully professional domestic NRC replacing Super Rugby.

        • Who?

          We’re actually not that far apart. I just question when people throw out lines like, “Super Rugby’s taken us backwards.” Especially when people say that it’s done nothing in its 20+ year history (you didn’t say that, others did). That’s ignorant, and lacks nuance. And your real position is more nuanced.
          .
          I like the Jaguares, but agree they can be a major problem with the travel. Having two distinct competitions – Arg/SA and NZ/Aus – would make a lot more sense from a competition perspective (though perhaps not from a money perspective, which may also be an issue for the NZRU, as much as they enjoy the challenge of playing Saffas). There’s definite issues with playing out of season in the NH/SH, the transitional seasons are hard to work out these days, and the transition is too short.
          .
          The relevance of the success of the comps in other countries is that it funds the broadcast agreement. I can’t imagine Fox pays much for the Australian section of SR, certainly not in comparison to SA, not in comparison to NZ on a per capita basis, and the NH resale would also be significantly assisted by the SA time zone games.

        • Charcoal

          Thanks for your considered reply. I agree that we’re not that far apart.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Well written Ben. The idea of having a club competition is a stupid idea from a bunch of stupid delusional people who still have their heads stuck up their arse and can’t see reality for the shit in their eyes. There has been no analysis of the issue and costs and certainly no analysis of the costs and how this could be funded. The NRC is a great competition and is preparing players to step up. If this were to go and the club rugby start the Wallabies would be even worse than they are now and good players would disappear off shore even faster. This so stupid

  • JJ

    Great write-up Ben. As a Force fan, I was pleased to see that almost all of the comments were in favour of the NRC. I attended the NRC final and there was a great noisy crowd of tribal Force fans cheering their team on.
    I have just listened to a radio interview of Mark Evans, the recently appointed CEO of GRR. He is an experienced administrator in rugby in the UK, as well as with NRL in Australia. He makes some thoughtful comments in the latter part of the interview about the success and mistakes made in launching professional rugby and other competitions. https://omny.fm/shows/sportsday-wa/sd6pr-nov-6
    You need to go to about the 41.15 mark. The interview lasts about 15 minutes.

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@Ben_Marczyk

Passionate about rugby from the grass roots up. Usually found at Brisbane club rugby games, or being involved in the junior and schools system. Love a chat, happy to admit when I'm wrong. I will watch any game of rugby regardless of who is playing, from juniors through to tests

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