Outgoing NSW Waratahs chief executive Greg Harris says the ARU should consider removing the Western Force from the Super Rugby competition and adding a second Sydney team as the ARU does not have the financial clout to take on the other major footballing codes on a national basis.
Harris, a former chief executive of the Western Force, finished his tenure as Waratahs boss this week and will be replaced by New Zealander Andrew Hore in mid-April.
Harris acknowledged there were some challenging times during his stint at Moore Park and looking more broadly at the state of the game said the ARU, from a strictly business sense, would be better off cutting its losses than keeping faith with making Western Australia work – a region Harris believes cannot prosper in such a saturated national sports market.
"Not even the NRL has a national footprint. They tried Adelaide, they tried Perth, but couldn't make it work, so what makes you think the ARU has the capacity to do it? It doesn't," Harris said on Friday.
"And if you look at a small marketplace like Perth…there's a lot of good people and a lot of capable people, but the true fact of the matter is whether or not it has the economy to be able to underwrite a club is another thing. If you're in a business mode you work to your strengths and strength is the marketplace on the east coast."
Harris said the current Super Rugby competition structure, which is set in stone for at least the next five years, would be a "significant challenge" for the game in Australia in future.
When he took on the role last year, Harris spoke in an interview with Fairfax Media about how rugby lacked the kind of tribalism other football codes have boasted in recent times.
While Australian conference games are billed as local derbies, Harris believes they don't have the same atmosphere or sense of occasion as Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC matches, or Sydney Swans and GWS Giants fixtures.
"Rugby can take a lead through the AFL and the soccer," Harris said.
"In [AFL] Brisbane and Sydney, you've got two teams because you need to have that rivalry established. In soccer, they [FFA] put two teams in [Sydney and Melbourne], so you've got a cross-town rivalry. The issue we've got here is that we don't have that tribalism. Our closest competition is the Brumbies who are three and a half hours away."
Asked whether it would be a good idea to have two Super Rugby franchises in Sydney, Harris said: "You want me to tell you something that you know?" before adding: "At the end of the day, the ARU chairman [Cameron Clyne] is a former banker.
"I wonder how many ATMs he's got in Perth and I wonder how many he's got in Sydney and Brisbane? Sydney and Brisbane are where your major stakeholders are. If you don't protect them, then you're going to lose them."
Reflecting on his time at the Waratahs – in which he inherited what he described as a "fairly unstable environment" - Harris listed some of his major achievements as appointing Daryl Gibson to fill Michael Cheika's void as head coach, retaining the majority of a roster whereby 70 per cent of players were off contract, and securing a 16-year venue hire agreement with the SCG Trust; a deal which took 10 months to finalise.
Harris has not closed the door on working in rugby down the track, but will take some time off to examine his options as well as "see a few beaches and racecourses".
The former Rugby Union Players Association boss also said the ARU had treated Sydney rugby clubs with little respect in regards to funding.
Harris argued club rugby was a major asset for the ARU in NSW and Queensland and an auspicious broadcast deal should have prompted investment in areas that from a business sense have previously, and will continue to, reap the rewards.
"If you're in a situation whereby you're under siege by the NRL, by the AFL and by soccer, what do you do with your major assets? You protect the assets that actually produce for you," Harris said. "I don't see that in the national strategy. The clubs backed Bill [Pulver] when he needed his NRC, cannibalised their own program, did everything for the ARU. When the ARU's got some funds, what's it done? Actually ignored them. It's not even the money, it's the respect."