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Declining participation and ARU plans for the future


Jim Lenehan (48)
At school level especially high school rugby places the year 12 student and the final year team as the best. Soccer does it in years 8 & 9 therefore getting in early and letting students study in years 11 & 12.

I don't live in Australia and know nothing about your school system, but this confuses me. Are you saying that the soccer 1st XI is made up of 13/14/15 year olds, with no seniors whatsoever? Or have I misunderstood?


Alan Cameron (40)

We are of a similar mind but I should in the spirit of fairness declare I am nowhere near as hard core rusted on rugby person as most on this site.

Moreover while I am a rugby first person, I sorta started to loose not so much interest but faith is not to strong a word in the late 90's early 00's.

Sorry for repeating myself but I saw a bunch of out of their depth rugby managers approached by some smart suits who spun the Tri Nation / Super Rugby spell over them and showed how they could stop RL from raiding their players in fact they could now raid league.

The initial size of Super Rugby was fine and if we had then developed a competition under it to support it and fund some of the new media money to it we could have created anything.

However we all know what happened the Shute teams all lost their best players and the quality of the competition fell and the only rugby competition shown on FTA TV on the ABC and thus a showcase of what kinda sport we are was lowered in quality and the rugby media all but ignored it. I used this once on a weekend away as the biggest sporting mistake by a code in my lifetime and won.

Its at this stage started to question what was going on. No excuse work, three boys, and life in general just takes over about this stage and career, the kids schooling etc take on an importance that exceeds the ills I saw in my game.

I have watched Somerville Oval & Eastwood Oval go from training on three ovals 3 nights a week to now Epping Rugby being left with 5 teams.

FFS I can recall Eastwood in the 80's went we made the grand final with the shops covered in blue and white.

The Eastwood club once full of rugby folk today I doubt anyone today in the club could name a current test player.

But I better stop there as I will just make some folk upset and unhappy.


Alan Cameron (40)
I don't live in Australia and know nothing about your school system, but this confuses me. Are you saying that the soccer 1st XI is made up of 13/14/15 year olds, with no seniors whatsoever? Or have I misunderstood?

No quite the opposite.

Soccer has more players today then RU, RL, RU combined.

They have a huge park based local team competition broken up into local district associations that run the local competitions.

Soccer was never that big in NSW state schools and in private schools almost none.

In the 70's in the Newcastle area a teacher called Bill Turner [I will put the link at the end] started a local Newcastle Hunter knock out competition for U 15's.

Today the competition he started is Australia's biggest by light years, and one of the best in the world. My wife is a teacher and has been telling me about it for years.

I think less than 10 years ago the private GPS schools entered the competition. It has exploded in interest in these schools. The parents love it because their children can still play for fun in their key study years. Also if you have a player at 15 its harder to get them to switch over to rugby than when they were 12.

If interested have a good look and read of the links in this site and its easy to see why this competition is being increasing seen as the sporting competition to win or do well in.

Hope this answers your question, in closing to compare the management of soccer and rugby at junior level is to compare a PHD student to a pre school student.

Here is the link and as I said my wife has been telling me about this for years.



Alan Cameron (40)
In todays Telie not online but in the paper version there was an article about how the AFL were paying schools to put up their posts at the expenses of traditional school sports and its about 20 schools per year.

The article said Epping Boys once a Rugby school now had AFL posts.

No idea how to stop, or reverse this trend but it does seem to me that AFL see us as a some target.

For those that don't know Epping Boys is about a decent drop kick from the home of the Woodies in TGM.

Seems to me many former Rugby people are turning to AFL. Could be wrong but just the impression I get.


Allen Oxlade (6)
There's the thing.... The AFL and NRL throw money at the grass roots. The ARU just RIP money out of the grass roots ala $1000 for the "privilege" of playing junior gold cashcow!


Will Genia (78)
Staff member
Junior Gold Cup is a cash cow for the ARU?

What planet are you on?

The ARU would love to have more money to invest in the grassroots. Sadly they don't. The level of investment in the pathways has increased substantially in the last few years. It's just sad that it didn't happen 20 years ago.


Phil Kearns (64)

I think the big changes you refer to at Eastwood have as much, or more, to do with the huge demographic changes in the district than with anything else.

Not many white faces in the streets these days: ergo, not many potential rugby supporters.

But I agree that there is a long term drop in the game's popularity, and it is cumulative. The fewer people support/play it in any given generation, the fewer still will support/play it in the next.

However, we had no alternative other than to go professional. With the benefit of hindsight, there certainly were unforeseen consequences

Having gone down the professional road, we had to find as many revenue sources as we could. There is no way that the various club competitions would have been attractive to a commercial broadcaster.

So a competition like Super Rugby was inevitable. What was, or is, the alternative? By the way, Epping Boys High School is still turning out some pretty good players, including Ed Craig, Eastwood's next Wallaby.

The biggest mistake, I reckon, was the opposition to the ARC. It could have been a vibrant, popular, competition by now. 8 wasted years.


Alan Cameron (40)

You are of course right in the street scape of Eastwood has changed. I would also argue not much has been done in connecting to the new street scape.

The ARC and its replacement the NRC were both rushed to suit the CEO's who both saw needing to be seen to be acting and doing something to quieten the increasingly restless and demanding fans. The first to try and keep his job and Pulver I think to be seen as a doer.

The tragedy of this rushing was twofold first as you indicated not getting the smallest rugby community behind them. Secondly missing out on building a far better model IMO.

Today we are a small community with many tribes not committed to any one cause or direction with many feeling left out [listen to Patworth] . This has IMO been brought about by those in charge seeing the Super Rugby and Tri nations as the beginning and the end.

The AFL spend money and chase and develop juniors, Gallop some years ago said the A-League was more important than the Socceroos.

Its not so much I am scared of other codes, its just I am jealous of how they are managed and have been managed for a long time. In a kinda contrition I think Pulver is a decent CEO. However I don't see him as someone who can turn the car around and we head north for a while.


Phil Kearns (64)

I lived and worked in Asia for a total of about 20 years. Most of that time in Hong Kong, for a few years with regional responsibilities which included Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Plus a bit if the PRC (what was then the "Special Economic Zone"),

I worked for several years in Thailand. I know where rugby stands as a sport in those places.

Interest in rugby union very limited, with the exception of Japan. In fact, as a generalisation, interest in organised sport was very limited amongst the middle class, their interest was in getting their kids into the best schools, then the best universities, then the best careers.

Very hard for a Club like Eastwood to do much to change the culture of people from India, and Asia. AFAIK all are welcome at Millner. But horses have to want to drink. Amateur sports clubs just do not have the resources to do more than keep the doors open and provide playing opportunities for those who want to play our game.


Alan Cameron (40)

Totally agree with your comments pertaining to connecting to Asia parents.

I think I am getting old an cranky and far less forgiving of those who run Rugby. The private school / local district team issue. Sydney University's raiding players from western Sydney and making those clubs so weak. My concerns that our only real FTA product over the last 30 plus years is robbed of its best players.

As I said my wife is a teacher at a state school and she tells me things that other codes do.

We have not only a declining participation rate but also players we used to get previously we simply don't get anymore. AFL in particular raid our junior rep teams, and RL scouts are always looking at our junior rep teams.

I do agree with you that a fully functioning NCR is the way to go. Its getting support behind it and creating pathways to it. Therein lies its two biggest issues IMO.


Phil Kearns (64)

After I posted my last comments, I suddenly thought about James Ruse High School which is in either Eastwood's or Parramatta's catchment. In my day, all the selective High Schools had varied and strong sports competitions. I wonder what kids at James Ruse play? Not rugby, that much is certain.


Alan Cameron (40)

Just had a quick look at James Ruse web page as well as North Sydney Boys and Normanhurst Boys.

Not much joy in selective schools anymore for Rugby.


Phil Kearns (64)

Just had a quick look at James Ruse web page as well as North Sydney Boys and Normanhurst Boys.

Not much joy in selective schools anymore for Rugby.

Not much joy for any serious sports, which is kind of understandable, given how competitive the world has become. Sad.


Watty Friend (18)
Good to see that the rugby online community are starting to see that the AFL has far more resources then the NRL to hit their nurseries.


Phil Kearns (64)
Some of the Brisbane GPS schools have been playing AFL for 30 years now. You can see the result in the massive ongoing success of the Lions in that time.

Fair enough. My somewhat cryptic response was aimed much more broadly: it would be my guess that a much smaller percentage of kids are now playing competitive sport of any kind, than they were way back when. And of those that are playing something, it is more likely to be soccer than anything else.

So "what nurseries?" was a clumsy way saying that the traditional nurseries have either disappeared totally, or been diminished dreadfully.


Andrew Slack (58)
I do think what AFL has tried to do in Queensland is interesting. They've establish independent and state school competitions. They've supported schools of excellence. The auskick program is established and well attended.

They've been doing this for decades.

It's basically the model that all other sports probably aspire to.

And yet their pro-teams are a joke. Is it more popular in the state than a decade ago?

Probably not. So if they can't do it, can it be done?


John Solomon (38)
A question was raised about rugby at selective schools. The demographic of the kids getting into selective schools is very rapidly ending rugby at those schools

Hurlstone is a good example, a school with a great rugby tradition, including a couple of wallabies (Garry Grey and Dave Lyons). As recently as 2000 Hurlstone were in the final of the Waratah Shield against St Edmunds. Now, they battle to field a side. The fact was, even then boarders only made up a third of the students but 90% of the rugby sides, and when the agriculture goes from there in two years time, and with it the boarders, so ends Hurlstone rugby.

There is nothing wrong with the day students, it's just that they are from Asian backgrounds and rugby is simply not part of their culture.