Former Wallabies captain James Slipper says Australian players must develop a winning mindset to do their part in a rugby reboot, but urged officials to give them a plan for the future to ease their contract anxiety.
Australian rugby will relaunch as a domestic competition next week, with Slipper and the ACT Brumbies to take on the Melbourne Rebels at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night.
Many believe it is the first step to a new-look Super Rugby format, with talks underway for Australian and New Zealand teams to link in a trans-Tasman competition.
But nothing has been finalised and players are worried about their long-term future in the game given contract negotiations are still banned and the future beyond September is unknown.
Slipper, a 96 Test and 125-game Super Rugby prop, signed a Brumbies contract extension just weeks before coronavirus shutdown the competition and sent Australian rugby spiraling into the unknown.
Slipper is categorised as one of the "lucky ones" because he was able to get his deal done before Rugby Australia enforced a moratorium on contract talks. Several others are waiting to find out if they'll be offered deals in the new rugby world.
"It's only natural have concerns, I still do," Slipper said.
"That's where we're at. It's a pandemic and there are outside forces that are changing day to day. We don't really know what the competition is going to look like next year and that's probably the biggest issue we've got.
"We've got an international game with international borders that need to be crossed ... that's probably our biggest challenge. We've got this [domestic] competition starting, but the sooner we can get a competition in place for next year, a lot of the players will be at ease.
"I've got a contract, but there are blokes out there who aren't contracted at all. That's a real big issue for the game going forward ... what we do next year. But at the same time, we need to get through this year first."
Rugby Australia is working with New Zealand Rugby to try do formulate plans for a trans-Tasman competition next year. The details need to be locked in before Rugby Australia can sell the game to broadcasters, and players won't know their individual futures until the television deal is signed.
The Super Rugby AU season will give players, fans and administrators short-term reprieve from the off-field distractions, with the Brumbies being installed as early favourites after their strong start to the year.
They won five of the first six games, including beating NSW, Queensland and the Rebels, to record their best start to a season in 16 years. "I'm not really interested in excuses or any of that business," Slipper said. "I know it's going to be tight."
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There is still scope for some sort of finals series against New Zealand teams in September or October, as well as plans for Bledisloe Cup matches if a travel bubble between the countries can be established.
Slipper says the players have to do their bit for rugby administrators by lifting the standard of performance whenever the season starts and in Tests after the Wallabies' dismal World Cup showing.
"We haven't really had results with the Wallabies for a few years now and our Super teams have struggled, to be fair," Slipper said.
"At the end of the day, we need to start making some changes with the way we go about our business and try and have more of a winning mindset. You can look into all areas of the game but at the end of the day, we've just got to perform.
"You've got to be more competitive and we've got to make sure we turn up and get some results. I guess that's what's so [exciting] about this comp, there's going to be a real spotlight on Australian rugby because we're playing derbies every weekend so there's direct competition for Australian teams going forward under [Wallabies coach] Dave Rennie and that's going to produce a bit of a fiery few matches."
Slipper also endorsed Brumbies mentor Dan McKellar as a potential Wallabies staff recruit, with Rennie expected to add McKellar to his coaching group.
"As long as he stays at the Brumbies [as well]," Slipper grinned. "I think he's done an unbelievable job, he's turned into one of my favourite coaches.
"The way he gets his point across through training and holds the boys accountable for what they're doing at training is really good. I think if Dan was given an opportunity to coach at Australian level, I reckon he'd do pretty well."
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July 4: ACT Brumbies v Melbourne Rebels at Canberra Stadium, 7.15pm