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NRL considers funding all junior development in a major revamp of the game's pathways


Brad Walter and Michael Chammas

"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." 

5 comments so far

  • Included among the top clubs in the NRL at the moment are the Roosters, Manly and Melbourne, all without the benefit of strong junior nurseries so why is it so urgent that a draft for junior players be introduced. There are many more problematic areas of the game that the administrators should be looking at before going down this path.

    Kings Langley
    Date and time
    August 11, 2014, 7:26AM
    • Trying to catch up with the AFL.

      Date and time
      August 11, 2014, 10:41AM
    • Yea those clubs you mention just sit back with plenty of money and pick the eyes out of juniors bought on by other clubs.We all know they are likely routing the so called "cap".If every club was like them not many juniors would be playing at all.Then their fans crow bout what a club they have.Time for clubs that help and build the future of the game to be able to hold onto their juniors they want at least for a few years even if it means help from NRL coffers.

      Date and time
      August 11, 2014, 11:27AM
  • The under 20s competition is an obvious step up from SG Ball and Harold Matthews for young players. The mistake made by the NRL is that it is/was seen as the stepping stone to the NRL. It isn't. Very few players have the maturity to go straight into the top grade. The NRL has paid much too little attention to the NSW and Queensland Cups. These are competitions where the young players gain further grounding. After watching iU20s games where scores are regularly 48-36 or similar, it is obvious such players aren't up to the top level. Pay more attention to NSW and QLD Cup. Call it Reserve Grade if necessary, but give that grade more prominence in player development.

    The Dog
    Date and time
    August 11, 2014, 11:09AM
    • Teams like the Roosters do not like the prospect of any constraints being placed on them concerning recruitment of good junior talent developed-and paid for-by those clubs with significant junior development programmes. Much easier to chuck money at someone else's juniors rather than spending any developing their own. If this sort of rubbish is allowed to continue unchecked, the NRL will end up like soccer's Premier League in the UK where only about 4 teams ever have any real hope of winning the competition

      Date and time
      August 11, 2014, 2:26PM

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