"We need to be able to accommodate the young fast-tracked player and also the later maturer.": Brian Canavan.

"We need to be able to accommodate the young fast-tracked player and also the later maturer.": Brian Canavan. Photo: Getty Images

The NRL may fund all junior development across the game under a major revamp of pathways that could see the under 20s National Youth Competition scrapped and the introduction of a rookie draft.

As revealed by Fairfax Media on Sunday, the NRL is likely to replace the Holden Cup with new under 18s and under 20s state-based competitions when the broadcast deal concludes at the end of 2017, with the winners to play off on grand final day, as the NSW and Queensland Cup winners will do for the first time in October.

Fairfax Media also reported in March that a rookie draft was being considered as part of a review of the salary cap and South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson was among those to support it in an article in June about the soaring costs of junior development.

Both issues are being seriously investigated by the NRL as part of a review of junior development, with clubs boasting big junior nurseries such as St George Illawarra, Canberra, North Queensland and Wests Tigers seeking some form of compensation for producing players for the competition.

Newcastle recruitment manager Peter Mulholland estimated the cost of developing each player from the age of 15 until they are ready for the NYC was about $49,000, while statistics provided by the Dragons showed the club had produced 70 players currently playing for rival NRL, NSW Cup and NYC teams.

Those costs, coupled with the expense of fielding an under 20s team in a national competition, have led to the review, which could see a centrally funded and centrally run development system across the game, coupled with a rookie draft.

Canterbury chief executive Raelene Castle and her Sydney Roosters counterpart Brian Canavan said on Sunday that the game needed to maintain elite junior competitions while having strong open aged second tier competitions, such as the NSW and Queensland Cups. 

"Both of them are very significant components of our development pathway, both deserve resourcing," Canavan said. "We have a later maturation sport and indeed our average age in Origin this year was 28 and our average age here at the Roosters is 25.

"We need to be able to accommodate the young fast-tracked player and also the later maturer. Brett White didn't play first grade until he was 24. I remember Bryan Fletcher didn't play first grade until he was 22 and Craig Salvatore was 23. We have to keep these late maturing players in our game. If we can cater for both and afford both, we have the best development infrastructure of any sport in Australia."

Castle said the draft concept and the future of elite junior competitions couldn't be considered in isolation. "You need to look at the whole development from end to end because all of those things are linked together," she said. "You need to work to make sure you understand how they all link and the implications of any one decision is on the rest of the pathways.

"We have to think about where are we securing our talent from as a game, what are we doing for those clubs developing talent as opposed to those who aren't developing talent. It's a really complex piece of work and I don't believe you can pull one piece out in isolation. You have to look at all individual elements."

NRL club bosses said the rookie draft hadn't been discussed since a CEOs meeting earlier this year.

"With the draft concept, there has to be an equalisation of territories," Canavan said. "Currently Penrith have 9000 juniors and we have 760 registered juniors. If we can have a comparable base, then you look at it. But the way it's presented now, we are one club, as well as others, who are disadvantaged. What is the Warriors' base? What is the Storm's base? How do you define that? A lot of discussion has to go on."