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You're all right: NRL draft would change the way we look at the game

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The Gus and Webby Show

Phil Gould and Andrew Webster discuss the Rabbitohs' chance at a Finals win, and the role of a draft system in the development of young players.

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Many of the comments on the bottom of stories about the proposed NRL external draft indicate most fans have not got their heads around how profoundly it would change the face of the game in this country.

One comment is that clubs would get “no reward” for developing local juniors. They wouldn’t be developing local juniors anymore!

Another one that keeps resurfacing is that there’d be “no incentive” for developing local players. Same answer – they wouldn’t have to.

All in the same boat: Whether playing for Cottelsoe or Corrimal, all juniors would be the same under a new-look NRL if a draft was intorduced.

All in the same boat: Whether playing for Cottelsoe or Corrimal, all juniors would be the same under a new-look NRL if a draft was intorduced. Photo: Greg Totman

The way you think of an NRL club would have to change on a fundamental level. The club would really be 40 professional players, admin staff and coaches – that’s it. It would be a franchise in every sense of the word, a shell by current standards, with everything else run centrally by the NRL.

A junior game could be taking place right across the road from your local NRL club but the club would no longer have anything to do with that game. It would be run out of League Central.

The current boundaries of junior football would be irrelevant because, in Sydney, they are related to senior clubs would no longer have any role in running those competitions.

The NRL could re-draw boundaries, merge competitions and restructure every other level of football in the land. Whether you played you junior footy at Cottesloe or Corrimal, they idea is that you would get a uniform, McDonald's-type experience.

Your referees would all wear the same insignia and your progress would be structured in a very similar way, right up to the point where you could be drafted by a senior club.

Sure, players from your local NRL club might show up from time to time but your connection to them and the club would be very different to what it is today.

What do I think of all this?

Firstly, I think it will happen eventually. But secondly, I liken it to giving a hair dryer to a caveman – there’re a thousand things he needs more and besides, he’s got nowhere to plug it in.

How can we have a national draft without a national competition? We sure don’t have one of those yet.

And shouldn’t we be rationalising the state leagues into one big development body before we start taking the clubs out of the equation? The NSWRL and QRL were supposed to disappear under the Commission structure but politicked their way to survival.

I am reliably informed that even with its wads of cash, the NRL doesn’t have enough money to take over the expenditure that clubs currently invest in junior development. Dave Smith may argue otherwise.

However, unlike colleague Phil Gould I am happy this issue is in the public arena where it can be debated and the mood of fans analysed. I’d far rather be writing about this than whether Gorden Tallis or Robbie Farah are good blokes.


It's not sexy to sum up the NRL’s performance by saying they’re doing some things well, others not so well.

Dave Smith spends a lot of time listening to stake holders, going to bush and junior games, and trying to get a feel for the issues at hand.

But there are plenty of stories about consultants picking the brains of long-time NRL staff, preparing a report and that then becomes the job description of the staffer’s new boss.

You are offering the benefit of your experience for someone to come in and earn more than you in a position you aspired to.

Philosophically, Discord will never argue in favour of censorship of any kind. But how can the NRL fine coaches like Ricky Stuart $10,000 for “excessive” criticism and take no action against Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy when he clearly alleged Ashley Klein pre-judged his team.

Put simply, a referee wanting to sue Stuart for defamation would struggle, while Klein would have a case. What’s going on?

COMMENTS ... and responses.

Set of Six first.

GWS Giant said he couldn’t remember David Gallop getting a $1 billion TV deal. I think he did – how long had the new administration been in office when the deal was signed?

Chris talked about the legality of a the draft. He may be referring to an internal draft but in any case AFL players could sue over their draft but don’t because they accept it’s good for the game. Same answer for Ezz.

Lots and lots of comments from last week’s Discord.

It never ceases to amaze me how many fans of other sports comment at the bottom of rugby league stories and seem intent on point scoring. You won’t draw me into that, folks.

James said rugby league was “a non-entity” beyond NSW and Queensland. I LIKE non-entities! I am encouraging rugby league fans to EMBRACE being a non-entity. That’s what the column was about.

Operakat my point is that if NBA stars are representing countries other than the US, then some of that should bleed into coverage of basketball in America. I know that the UK media is interested in soccer teams other than England. But, as I have said before, if 18th century England had been populated by Australians, I doubt they’d have discovered Australia.

Friendly Raptor, I would prefer to have a 2016 Four Nations and a Great Britain tour – my comment was about making a choice if one had to. And Raptor, the RFL has asked Australia for a Lions tour and so far the Australians don’t want them. So you can address your questions about ruining the European Championship to Nigel Wood.

Big fish, I remind you that rugby league’s World Cup is older than rugby union’s. I can’t see why we should just stop playing it because you’re not interested. The same goes for jg. It’s fine to ask for the NRL to become the NBA but all the population and money is in the northern hemisphere. Who wants to follow a sport because it’s strongest competition is in far-off Australia? Too far from the action. Internationals give as a presence in the engine rooms of the world economy.

Greg I think the Sydney media is starting to appreciate how much the Titans are struggling. John Cartwright spoke very passionately about it on Monday.

Ted I believe rugby league will get a MUCH BIGGER TV deal next time. All TV contracts for professional sports are going up. Why does it deserve a smaller one?

Next Mini Ice Age, I am trying to put things into perspective. Rugby league is a tiny, tiny sport internationally and not even recognised by many governments as being different from rugby union. But it’s OUR pimple on the arse of the world. That’s the way we think about our teams – good times, bad times – so why can’t we think about our sport like that? Fly, that’s for you too.

Glfree I am sorry you saw the column as “arrogant” but I’ll wear it as a one-eyed as a badge of honour. Discord is a column for rugby league zealots, by a rugby league zealot. You can find any number of non-one-eyed stories by me on Google.

Stephen, the ARLC have met with officials in the UK about the state of the game there and will be paying a large part of the new RLIF CEO’s salary. They have just today announced a Pacific strategy. They see their job differently to how you see it.

JMW the World Cup is not useless for all the other countries who play the game. You are being extremely parochial again. That was the point of the column – this attitude than unless you’re big time, you’re not worth a second thought.

Let’s generalise. To play rugby league in Serbia or Thailand, you have to be the sort of person interested in obscure things, stuff that is only on the internet and about which everything is written in a foreign language.

That’s exactly the sort of person who DISLIKES rugby league in Australia. Here, rugby league is for Alpha males, it’s as mainstream as it gets. So is it any surprise the latter group looks down its nose at the former group, who in turn looks to us for help?

Tom Callaghan, last week’s headline was not my choice. I think I was saying that Australia is the freak of world rugby league. As explained above, Australia is the exception to almost every aspect of what rugby league is to me.

Forum here:

Podcast here:

10 comments so far

  • Steve,
    I really enjoy/appreciate your column each week, I'm an Australian who's been living in France for the last decade helping push the game along here. I started out as just a player but have become more and more involved and have been a club official for the last 3 years. It may be surprising how many young australian players come over to France for a year or two and the for the far majority of them it's a great experience. Reading your articles are refreshing as being a league player/supporter is like being a martyr over here. The first question most french ask is why I don't play the proper rugby!
    The game is in trouble here despite the success of the Catalans Dragons, but there are small but noticeable improvements, the most important I believe is the television deal the NRL signed here a couple of years ago meaning that the game is reaching more people. International games are imperative for the survival here and last year's world cup was a resounding success for not only the RFL but the FFRXIII too with both French games sold out and a lot of positive media which is sorely lacking here with an often oppressive rugby union older brother.
    One thing that surprises me is actually how much the french are pushing and helping the minnow nations develop rugby league. Hopefully we will see even more improvement with the RLIF finding its feet.
    Thanks again for your column and keep up the good work!

    Date and time
    August 13, 2014, 9:06PM
    • The NRL model seems a bit of an albatross around its neck to me. If you rely on junior development for senior team success it becomes very hard to grow the game to new, 'non-traditional' markets. 'Non-growth' is a problem all round for the game too I reckon. It doesn't feel like there's much love for the game among modern, educated professional-class types or groups such as new migrants or women. It's been reduced to being the bogan game for many. I live in the wealthier western suburbs of Brisbane and there isn't a junior team in the whole district anymore I think. It was never a huge area for the game but there used to be a couple of teams at least. Now its all AFL and still quite a bit of rugby. The new wave of African migrants that dominate a couple of suburbs over are all playing AFL, netball, soccer and anything but RL and RL doesn't seem that concerned by this.

      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 9:22PM
      • I'm not a fan of a draft - I think it's fixing a problem we don't have. Beyond the illegality of it, it's in place for talent equalisation and having 9 different champions in 16 years says this isn't a major problem for rugby league.

        I also believe it further destroys the tribalism which the game is built on, as young players will no longer aspire to play for their local team because they have no choice over who they play for. Along those same lines, the idea of excluding the 5 best locals for each team makes the whole thing a bit pointless for me.

        The question that needs to be asked is will centralised development and a draft drive more fans to the game, more players to the game, and better development of juniors into clubs? I personally don't think so. It would be change for change sake, which is a lot of money to be spent for not a major improvement.

        Date and time
        August 13, 2014, 10:35PM
        • Steve,

          Cronulla and Wests Tigers are struggling to field a team given the amount of injuries they have at the moment. Both of them face a potential situation where they would have to breach the second tier salary cap simply to a field a side in the last rounds of the NRL competition this year. Andrew Ferguson points out that since 2004, only 8 squads from 173 have finished the season using 25 players or less. Do you think it's time to expand the size of the top tier NRL squad to cover 30 players?

          Date and time
          August 13, 2014, 11:37PM
          • Steve - as an interested "bystander" down south I can say that I much prefer league to union. Much simpler to follow and understand - less referees pulling out incomprehensible penalties etc. And also doesn't have the "ra-ra" crowd. I love the old league posters in old Sydney pubs. And having had sibling living in Newtown years ago, was sad when I watched them lose the 1981 Grand Final on TV - even more upset when they were forced out of the competition two years later. And bravo to those in France playing league!

            Date and time
            August 14, 2014, 12:17AM
            • Steve, I like your column. It is interesting to read international rugby league sites like RLplanet and RLEF to see how things are going in other countries. People might be surprised to hear a Canadian RL international game the other day got a crowd of over 7,000. For RL to prosper overseas it would do well to follow the basketball model, so players who aren't good enough for NBA (with some exceptions) play as imports in other leagues around the world which helps lift the local standard. Perhaps the NRL could offer inducements for those too old for Holden Cup players who are good enough for NRL to play as imports in various leagues around the world.

              Date and time
              August 14, 2014, 8:28AM
              • As pointed out earlier, League is based on Tribalism. There has been a concerted effort to kill that since the mid 90s. Teams that call themselves Sydney (let alone Brisbane) are against it. Merged teams have killed their tribalism, even though they are still supported (grudgingly by the older fans - I recall a couple of work mates who were happy when the Wests Tigers won the Premiership but quietly they'd wished it had either been Balmain or the Magpies instead). No doubt Tribalism is gone. Future generations won't care because they won't know about it. And neither will I. I'm an old recalcitrant. If my team Souths had not returned to the league I wouldn't be reading this article, let alone following the game. I follow Souths and that's what matters to me. Clearly the draft is unneccessary unless it is another intentional nail in the coffin of what traditional rugby league used to be. Maybe the administrators are right and it has to be this way but I don't like it. Imagine following the Sydney Roosters who, one day, decide to relocate to Adelaide. That's what happens in american sports. On the other hand, tribalism is still very strong in british sports. You'll never see Manchester United moving to Somerset. Their tribalism works and I prefer their system to the american.

                Sir Francis
                Date and time
                August 14, 2014, 9:29AM
                • Steve - The idea that young players grow up wanting to play for - or even supporting - their local team is an absolute misnomer and antiquated beyond belief.

                  Jonathan Thurston's favourite player growing up was Ricky Stuart and supported the Raiders – in his playing career he’s been a Bulldog and Cowboy. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck favourite player was Manu Vatuve and supported the Warriors - he plays for the Roosters. Moses Mbye's idol was Jonathan Thurston and his team was the Cowboys - he plays for the Bulldogs.
                  Players will follow the money. Clubs will chase talent. And most young NRL fans don't support their local team. Face the facts, tribalism is dead.

                  The quicker the NRL takes over junior development the better for the game. What incentive is there were small commercial market teams to develop talent? They have a 1-2 year window to turn NYC stars into a premiership winning side (which has never happened btw) or lose them to big-market teams.

                  The competition will never be even unless there massive salary cap concessions to these clubs and transfer payments introduced.

                  The idea people parrot about 8 different champions in 15 years is completely wrong: between 1998 - 2013 there have been 15 Grand Finals; the winners have come from the same 5 clubs (4 Storm, 3 Broncos, 2 Manly). If you take those 15 Grand Finals, 22 out of a total 30 Grand Finals births have come from these same 5 clubs.

                  Even competition? Nope. There is nothing worth preserving about the current allocation of talent.

                  Brodie Murdoch
                  GLENDENNING, NSW
                  Date and time
                  August 14, 2014, 1:28PM
                  • Steve, The issue of junior development and the salary cap has gone in circles for ages. The solution as I see it is to give each club an equal portion of territory, in terms of potential for junior development. The territory would not have to be exclusive to where the team is based, but Australia-wide. The clubs would then have those juniors cap-free and the cap could be reduced to further encourage development and discourage poaching. The outcome would be good for the juniors, through more investment by clubs at the front end, good for players (there would be more one club players) and good for an even competition. The boundaries could be redrawn depending on demographic shifts and agreements entered into between clubs, the NRL and local RL organisations. This approach would also spread the game nationally as it would be in the clubs best interests.
                    I'd appreciate your thoughts on how this might work.

                    Sawtell Tom
                    Date and time
                    August 14, 2014, 1:41PM
                    • Hey Mycall, well done on doing your bit for rugby league (aka rugby a XIII) in France ! I wonder what part of France you are in? I have spent some time cycling around the small villages of south and south-west France, and was pleasantly surprised at the passion some (emphasis on some!) French people have for league. I even saw one guy walking down the street of a small village south of Carcassonne wearing an Australian RL jumper and holding a pair of South Sydney shorts ! I am a keen follower of the Catalans Dragons and the local French RL comps (yes, a RL dag, I know) and hope one day to see the French team rise again - perhaps with more French players like Remi Casty in the NRL that will happen !
                      Allez rugby a XIII !

                      Date and time
                      August 14, 2014, 2:23PM

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                      MAN vs SYD 00:00BO
                      MEL vs NQL 00:00AAMI
                      WST vs NZW 00:00CSS
                      GCT vs STG 00:00Cbus Super Stadium
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                      Round 26
                      Thu, 03 SepTimes shown AEST
                      BRI vs MEL 00:00SUN
                      CBY vs NZW 00:00ANZ
                      NQL vs GCT 00:001300 Smiles Stadium
                      STG vs WST 00:00ANZ
                      PAR vs CBR 00:00Pirtek Stadium
                      PEN vs NEW 00:00Pepper Stadium
                      SYD vs SOU 00:00AS
                      CRO vs MAN 00:00Remondis Stadium
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                      NRL Ladder 2015
                      Overall standings
                      Team P W L D Pts
                      Newcastle Knights 4 4 0 0 8
                      Sydney Roosters 4 3 1 0 6
                      South Sydney Rabbitohs 4 3 1 0 6
                      Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 4 3 1 0 6
                      Brisbane Broncos 4 3 1 0 6
                      Penrith Panthers 4 2 2 0 4
                      Melbourne Storm 4 2 2 0 4
                      Parramatta Eels 4 2 2 0 4
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