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Third-tier rugby competition should slow Australian player exodus

Vikings coach Dan McKellar.

Vikings coach Dan McKellar. Photo: Melissa Adams

The National Rugby Championship will be a success if the next Billy Meakes stays in Australia.

The former Australian sevens and under-20s centre has signed a deal with English Premiership side Gloucester, joining an army of Australian players in Europe and Japan who moved offshore when their careers reached dead ends here. 

Meakes played for Norths in the Shute Shield and was a finalist for the Ken Catchpole Medal last year but, with a British passport in his pocket, took a chance in the lower divisions of the English system after failing to make the leap from club to Super Rugby in Australia. 

The chance turned into a game for Gloucester and, eventually, a prized full-time contract. On his first day with the club last year, the 23-year-old found himself at the breakfast table with former England and New Zealand internationals Mike Tindall and Jimmy Cowan. By anyone's standard, Meakes has landed on his feet. 

"I was on the cusp of Super Rugby when I was here for a couple of years, but obviously it wasn't working out and I wasn't going to get an opportunity this season," he said on a recent visit to Sydney.

"So I thought I may as well take an opportunity while it was there, which could put me in a better position to be seen by other clubs, which means it might be easier to come back now for a Super Rugby contract than I would have when I was playing at Randwick or Norths.

"It was an opportunity thing, to play a better level of rugby I had to go overseas."

The Canberra Vikings will start their season against the Perth Spirit on August 22.

The team is a three-way partnership between the University of Canberra, the Brumbies and the Vikings Group.

Coach Dan McKellar has almost finalised his roster and will take players away to a camp at Bateman's Bay next month before finalising the final squad of 14 Brumbeis and 16 Canberra club rugby players.

Despite initial angst from the Viking's Canberra club rivals, McKellar hopes the capital will back the NRC as a genuine stepping stone to Brumbies contracts.

The Vikings will play four games in Canberra in the competition's inaugural season.

The second coming of professional third-tier rugby in Australia has been a long time in the making. It will be born again in little more than a month's time, when the Sydney Stars play Brisbane City at Ballymore in the opening round of the NRC on August 21.

It will come bearing the scars of its predecessor the Australian Rugby Championship, which was killed after one season because of its profligate cost.

This time around, the Australian Rugby Union is determined to have the competition wash its own face and has lined up a more than $2.5 million in broadcast and commercial sponsorship to ensure that happens.

That determination to succeed where the ARC failed has put a greater burden on the nine participating teams, including the clubs, individual investors and provincial unions, who have been required to stump up the cash for their participation. 

It has led to prominent Sydney club Eastwood to withdraw its financial support for the Greater Sydney Rams and still has many club and provincial identities questioning the financial capacity of many of the sides to play in the competition beyond the first season. 

But amid the noise and criticism stand players such as Meakes and his former national academy teammate Terrence Hepetema. Hepetema made it on to the Waratahs' bench in the side's midweek clash with the British and Irish Lions last year before also heading to Europe. He now plays in the English Premiership with Leicester. 

For the players who do not automatically make the jump from schoolboy glory to Super Rugby, the NRC is a long overdue stepping stone in Australia's development pathway. 

"One of the problems [the Super Rugby clubs] had in the past was that a large proportion of their back-end squad weren't playing a sufficient level of high-quality rugby," said Andrew Fagan, the ARU's general manager of national teams and competitions.

"So this gives them effectively a 12-month program of activity now training and playing."

Meakes said he would still be in Australia if the NRC was around last year.

"I don't think I would have gone, based on the offer I was given [to play with Clifton in the English second division]," Meakes said.

"If Gloucester was in the picture before then, who knows, but that's a whole different kettle. Gloucester's the next level and I've just lucked out there."

See the full NRC draw here.

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Super Rugby 2015

Round 1
Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
CRU 10vs REB 20 Report Stats
BRU 47vs RED 3 Stats
Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
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Round 2
Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
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Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
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SHA 29vs LIO 12 Report Stats
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Round 3
Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
HIG 20vs RED 13 Report Stats
FOR 13vs HUR 42 Stats
Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 25vs BLU 24 Report Stats
CHF 40vs CRU 16 Stats
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Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 43vs SHA 35 Report Stats
LIO 19vs STO 22 Report Stats
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Round 4
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
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BRU 27vs FOR 15 Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
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RED 5vs WAR 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT 20vs BUL 39 Report Stats
STO 29vs SHA 13 Report Stats
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Round 5
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 30vs BLU 23 Report Stats
FOR 17vs REB 21 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 34vs LIO 6 Report Stats
HIG 26vs WAR 19 Report Stats
RED 0vs BRU 29 Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
STO 19vs CHF 28 Report Stats
CHT 10vs SHA 27 Report Stats
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Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 13vs HUR 20 Report Stats
REB 16vs LIO 20 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 57vs CHT 14 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 25vs FOR 24 Report Stats
SHA 12vs CHF 11 Report Stats
WAR 28vs BRU 13 Report Stats
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Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 36vs REB 12 Report Stats
RED 17vs LIO 18 Report Stats
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CHF 37vs CHT 27 Report Stats
HIG 39vs STO 21 Report Stats
WAR 23vs BLU 11 Report Stats
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SHA 15vs FOR 9 Report Stats
BUL 31vs CRU 19 Report Stats
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Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR 25vs STO 20 Report Stats
REB 23vs RED 15 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
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BRU 20vs CHT 3 Report Stats
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SHA 10vs CRU 52 Report Stats
LIO 22vs BUL 18 Report Stats
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Round 9
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BLU 16vs BRU 14 Report Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 20vs HIG 25 Report Stats
WAR 18vs STO 32 Report Stats
FOR 15vs CHT 24 Report Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO 23vs SHA 21 Report Stats
BUL 43vs RED 22 Report Stats
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Round 10
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 9vs CHF 26 Report Stats
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HIG 30vs BLU 24 Report Stats
BRU 8vs REB 13 Report Stats
FOR 6vs STO 13 Report Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA 10vs BUL 17 Report Stats
CHT 17vs RED 18 Report Stats
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Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
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BRU 31vs HIG 18 Report Stats
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WAR 18vs REB 16 Report Stats
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LIO 34vs CHT 29 Report Stats
STO 15vs BUL 13 Report Stats
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Round 12
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG 48vs SHA 15 Report Stats
BRU 10vs WAR 13 Report Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
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HUR 29vs CRU 23 Report Stats
REB 16vs CHF 15 Report Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 25vs STO 17 Report Stats
BUL 35vs LIO 33 Report Stats
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Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 58vs RED 17 Report Stats
REB 42vs BLU 22 Report Stats
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HUR 32vs SHA 24 Report Stats
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LIO 28vs HIG 23 Report Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
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Round 14
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
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RED 46vs REB 29 Report Stats
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WAR 33vs SHA 18 Report Stats
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CHT 24vs HIG 45 Report Stats
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Round 15
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FOR 3vs HIG 23 Report Stats
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Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
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Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
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HIG 36vs CHF 9 Report Stats
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LIO 27vs WAR 22 Report Stats
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Round 17
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR 56vs HIG 20 Report Stats
FOR 20vs BRU 33 Report Stats
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BLU 11vs CRU 34 Report Stats
RED 3vs CHF 24 Report Stats
CHT 33vs WAR 58 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
STO 19vs LIO 19 Report Stats
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Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
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REB 11vs FOR 13 Report Stats
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
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CHF 13vs HUR 21 Report Stats
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SHA 34vs STO 12 Stats
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Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
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Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
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Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
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Super Rugby Grand Final
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HUR 14vs HIG 21 Report Stats
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Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Hurricanes 16 14 2 0 170 66
Waratahs 16 11 5 0 96 52
Stormers 16 10 5 1 50 45
Highlanders 16 11 5 0 117 53
Brumbies 16 9 7 0 108 47
Lions 16 9 6 1 -22 42
Chiefs 16 10 6 0 73 48
Bulls 16 7 9 0 9 38
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