Will the ARU get the national comp right eventually?
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Ewen McKenzie (right) with Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
“I think this competition will be in place forever. I see this as an important step in the development pathway for Australian rugby.
“I think we will be looking back in 20 years and really acknowledging what a pivotal moment this was in Australian rugby.”
When ARU chief executive Bill Pulver made this bullish claim – that the new NRC will last forever – he was setting himself up for an almighty fall.
Much like ex-PM Bob Hawke’s famous line “no Australian child will be living in poverty by 1990″.
Or if we go back earlier to last century, when US President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that the Great War of 1914-18 was “the war to end all wars”.
All cute lines but ultimately meaningless unless backed up by committed intent.
Hello everyone, no doubt you’ve heard the same message from me in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 when The Roar kicked off.
But lucky you, you now get the opportunity to hear his same message from me in 2014. My first rugby dispatch of 2014!
Almost everyone agrees a national comp is essential. Almost everyone agrees the 2007 ARC model was a great concept but poorly implemented.
Broken in the end by ill-conceived compromise and bitter self-interest. Not to mention an impractical financial model.
There is tremendous excitement, naturally, about this new comp. However, those of us who have been around a long time know how easily a good idea can quickly turn to dust.
The American rock band The Eagles even penned a song about human nature’s corrosive ability to destroy anything good, in their haunting ballad ‘The Last Resort’ – “call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye”.
The more discerning among us wait, and watch.
So far so good.
Pay TV operator Fox Sports and parent Foxtel have come on-board to bankroll the new comp, injecting much needed cash into the ARU’s coffers. They will also televise the new comp, of course. It will be restricted, one game per week initially, plus all the finals.
But that’s better than the 2007 deal whereby the ARU paid the ABC to televise the ARC. However, no free-to-air TV coverage is still a concern.
But remember, it’s baby steps. Once again, it’s all about baby steps.
The new NRC is intended to provide better incentives and progression pathways for our aspiring rugby players.
It is also hoped to act as a strong finishing school for those looking to take the next step towards Super Rugby and international stardom.
Pulver wants the NRC to become Australian rugby’s answer to South Africa’s Currie Cup and NZ’s ITM Cup (NPC).
But it won’t amount to much if the ARU don’t get the teams, symbols and their locations right.
That’s worth repeating – it won’t amount to much if the ARU don’t get the teams, symbols and their locations right.
Cricket’s Sheffield Shield is just about the only major national comp I know of that survives without turning a profit, or attracting fans through the turnstiles, or watching on TV.
Fans of the Sheffield Shield are passive and invisible. They will follow matches through the newspapers or internet, but they’re not out there shouting their support from the rafters.
It might work for cricket, although the future of the Shield is uncertain, and in any case is bankrolled by other formats.
Rugby enjoys no such diversity. Our sevens program is a long way from bankrolling other formats.
If the ARU fails to engage the fans with the choice and location of the new teams, then the concept will collapse after a few years. Of that much I am certain.
Again, the ARU appear to be making the right noises. It is looking at an eight to 10 team comp comprising regional teams.
That word ‘regional’ originally had everyone confused, but it seems regional means greater than a district, or premier rugby club.
In the ARU’s Q and A with Ben Whitaker, his standard response to about three or four questions was: “The teams will be decided by a tender process (expression of interest) that is open to existing clubs and groups and new syndicates and partnerships. All will be strongly considered.”
The ARU is being deliberately elusive and non-committal. Everyone can apply for membership, but as we get closer to time, hard-nosed decisions will need to be made.
In the meantime, I suspect the ARU will monitor public media outlets to see where and how the breeze of opinion is blowing.
I am now offering my 10 team NRC model, basing my teams on the ARU’s broad vision. I am also relying heavily on history and tradition.
The ARU has said they will look at interest from Adelaide.
An Adelaide team is possible for several reasons. Firstly, the comp is being bankrolled by Fox Sports and secondly, with the premier rugby comps completed, recruitment of players won’t impact on these comps.
Adelaide is Australia’s fifth largest city. Now is the time to penetrate the capital of South Australia. My 10 team NRC:
1. Adelaide Falcons
Catchment area all of SA. The Black Falcons is the current name of the rep team. Play in red jerseys, navy shorts and gold piping (state colours).
2. Brisbane Griffins
Catchment area north and west suburbs of Brisbane. A pair of griffins hold up the shield on the city coat of arms (check it out)!
Play in perhaps maroon (state colour), although old city colours were red and white (for sporting teams).
3. Canberra Kookaburras
Catchment area all of ACT and Southern Inland NSW. The Kookaburras was the former rep team name before the Brumbies.
Playing in a mix of blue, gold (territory colours), black and white (swans on coat of arms depicting Aborigines and Europeans), featured in a stylish design from the mid-90s in Shute Shield.
4. Melbourne Axemen
Catchment area all of Victoria. The Axemen was the rep team name in the ARS. Play in navy and white hoops (state colours).
5. Newcastle Wildfires
Catchment area perhaps all of Northern NSW. The Wildfires was former team name in mid-90s Shute Shield.
The Wildfire is a red flowering gum that grows down the entire east and south of Australia. Play in now established blue and red (Newcastle-Hunter).
6. North Harbour Platters
Catchment area all of Northern Beaches and North Shore suburbs of Sydney. The Platypus is the state animal (mammal), who thrives on both land and waterways, thus being an ideal mascot for the region.
Playing uniform – open to suggestions. Perhaps green (for hinterland) and navy (for water).
7. Perth Spirit
Catchment area all of WA. The Spirit was the rep name of the team in the ARC.
The spirit is meant to convey connections with the Aboriginal dreamtime and vastness of the land. Play in yellow and black hoops (state colours).
8. South Brisbane Emus
Catchment area south and east suburbs of Brisbane. Suggested Emus because it is the national bird and gets little love. But it’s a pesky critter when annoyed.
Playing uniform – open to suggestions. The rugby league ex-SQ Crushers played in gold, navy and red.
9. Sydney Fleet
Catchment area all of east and south suburbs of Sydney. The Fleet connects with the past history of the country, the arrival of the First Fleet and name of the team in the ARC.
Play in blue and gold (colours of the City of Sydney Council).
10. West Sydney Rams
Catchment are all of Greater West of Sydney. The Rams also connects with the former colony’s first industry and name of the team in the ARC.
Play in orange, grey and black as also worn by GWS Giants.
Well, there you have it, If the ARU follows my blueprint, then I reckon Pulver’s boast of the NRC lasting forever might come true!
I used to think I was a pretty good rugby lock, but now realise I was deluded. My nickname is a truncation of my surname, so I'm not Arabic - phew! However, sometimes I imagine myself as a Beau Geste in the French Foreign Legion, fighting evil, righting wrongs, promoting good and rescuing damsels in distress.