A $10.8 million funding injection by the NRL into the game's second tier will result in the return of two curtain-raisers before NRL matches and confirmation of a ''Super Bowl'' play-off on grand-final day between the NSW Cup and Queensland Cup winners.
The landmark review into rugby league's pathways has been signed off by the ARL Commission, and only needs the expected rubber-stamping by the QRL and NRL clubs before being in place for next year. Officials charged with leading the review of the second-tier pathways opted against bringing back a reserve-grade competition or making significant changes to the Holden Cup, instead deciding on the massive investment in the state leagues.
''This is very significant,'' said NRL chief operating officer Jim Doyle, who led the pathways review along with head of football Todd Greenberg. ''This shows that we're very much looking at whole-of-game, and not just the 16 NRL clubs.
''There are 25 other teams now that are going to be part of the NRL system. It's a real significant step for us to put $10.8 million into the competition at that level to enhance that competition, to raise the standards, whether it be facilities or medical standards. It's a real investment for the game, to show that we're wider than just the NRL.''
The funding will be poured into the competitions over the next three years. Each club will receive $100,000 a year, provided they achieve certain criteria. The other million dollars annually will be apportioned as decided by a newly formed State Cup group, which includes NSWRL chief executive David Trodden, QRL boss Rob Moore and Greenberg.
That group will also oversee the scheduling of matches, with the prospect of NRL, NSW or Queensland Cup and Holden Cup matches on the same day at the same ground, changing match-day experiences. However, that may not be possible at Allianz Stadium and ANZ Stadium, due to the added costs involved, and other grounds due to logistics.
''The NRL will work with NSW and work with Queensland on scheduling,'' Doyle said. ''So where you've got the possibility to have three games in one place, you would look to do that. That'll be based on constraints ahead of us … but we're going to look at each of those constraints and try and find solutions.''
All state clubs will be linked to NRL clubs, who will have the option of primary and secondary affiliations. One of the other key recommendations was the staging of a play-off between the winners of the NSW and Queensland cup competitions on grand-final day, first revealed by Fairfax Media in September.
That Super Bowl-style match will now be played for the first time before the 2014 NRL grand final.
Discussions have been ongoing with broadcasters, who may look to televise more state cup matches while continuing to show the Holden Cup from next season. The review included feedback from stakeholders including NRL clubs, the state bodies, state clubs, broadcasters, the RLPA, as well as 4250 supporters.
''All the stakeholders we've talked to believe that the elite pathways have got room for improvement, but they are exceptionally good. They are better than any other sport,'' Doyle said.
A reserve-grade competition was considered, but ultimately rejected due to the costs and the prospect of harming State Cup clubs. The review also considered raising the age of the NYC competition, but it was decided that too would harm the state cups.
''Obviously the NYC is still an extremely important step in the pathway, and it's also a massive recruitment tool,'' Doyle said.
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