How the NRL is holding us to ransom over the NYC

Jordan Crick Roar Rookie

By Jordan Crick, Jordan Crick is a Roar Rookie

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    For the past eight seasons, the NRL’s National Youth Competition (NYC) has been at the vanguard of junior player development. The new broadcast rights deal will, however, bring an end to the competition responsible for identifying and facilitating the games most promising under-20 talent.

    The competition has long found censure in regards to its substandard quality. Scorelines are a case in point. Many concede that in a majority of cases the NYC leaves players ill-equipped and unprepared for the rigours of the big time in the NRL – particularly in regards to defensive structures and general toughness.

    The concern is that these defensive inadequacies will filter into the first-grade arena and infect its superlative standard.

    Game quality aside, the financial burden on both the NRL and its subsidiaries is arguably the greatest drawback of the NYC. Exorbitant running costs associated with interstate travel and accommodation, not to mention player and staff wages, are significant financial blows for NRL clubs to incur, particularly given that the competition offers little return on investment, monetarily speaking. Television and sponsorships are the only viable sources of income.

    Finance and player development have become mutually exclusive in the NYC, effectuating a catch-22 situation for NRL clubs. In this case, without a short-term investment in the under-20s, the long-term gain of a talented youngster retained in the wings for first-grade is forfeited. This is a hefty fee to pay for an investment fraught with instability, particularly in an age of market volatility and third party agreements.

    Keeping a player resolute to a club’s mantra in the face of a large pay rise is especially difficult for a club with little capital inflow. A 2015 report revealed that clubs such as the Newcastle Knights and Gold Coast Titans were ranked 12th and 13th respectively in terms of developing the greatest number of first-grade players from the NYC.

    Unremunerative investments have unearthed further complications for the NYC. For a long period of time, an investment in the under-20s was nugatory and counterproductive for clubs like the Melbourne Storm. They yielded very few players directly from the NYC, as their under-20s side churned out players for the Cronulla Sharks and its NSW Cup affiliate across the opening six years of the competition. Instances of this nature have dramatically reduced over the past few seasons.

    These ideologies aren’t empty platitudes, they are genuine concerns for a schismatic competition. One that appears boundless on paper, yet is frivolous and flawed in reality. One that, most importantly, is moving towards a foregone conclusion: the demise of the NRL’s most pragmatic junior rugby league pathway.

    Pragmatic in the sense that imitating the NRL’s framework deals with reality, as well as the pitfalls and plateaus of being a professional rugby league player – training, travel, nutrition, media work and team camps. It just so happens that some of the perks associated with operating a competition of the NYC’s magnitude are simultaneously cracking open the nest egg of clubs which are struggling financially.

    Despite the costs, we should still lend credence to a competition that has uncovered innumerable diamonds in the rough for the NRL. Throughout its eight years of operation to date, the NYC has provided us with a product that is fundamentally accessible – both for clubs and the public – and a means by which to assess the next crop of footballing maestros.

    The NYC’s vastly populated alumni roll is a testament to this. In its inaugural season alone, the competition exposed some of the current day superstars – Trent Merrin, Ben Hunt, Ben Barba, Wade Graham and Gareth Widdop to name but a few. By removing the NYC, surely we are removing an essential bridge to first grade and compromising the health of the NRL over the succeeding decades.

    Despite the copious amount of threads validating the pros of the NYC, any and all approbation of this competition is rapidly eroding. With every season comes further calls for its neck by the rugby league fraternity, effectively blunting the cogency of any counter argument.

    I for one wholeheartedly agree that this competition, while having served as an essential breeding ground for some time, is in need of a seismic overhaul in order to address both the financial and logistical concerns that are ubiquitous under the current system.

    An ostensibly enhanced nine-week competition played across state lines in lieu of the Holden Cup looms as the most likely avenue for the NRL to take following the implementation of the next broadcast rights deal.

    If the NRL was to sketch up a blueprint of objectives and requirements for an ideal NYC, they would be sure to appease any criteria pertaining to the enhancement of game quality. Without this, we are left with a competition that is ultimately sterile, commercially unattractive and unproductive in readying players with the physical and mental attributes that are required in the NRL.

    That’s why a nine-week competition, while addressing the financial disquietudes, will repeat the failings of the NYC in terms of player development. It’s why any future competition must be played statewide – independent of the NRL clubs – thus acting as a feeder competition for the Queensland and NSW Cups.

    This will allow young players, specifically forwards, to learn the ropes and complete their rugby league apprenticeships against seasoned pros. It’s why there must also be a steady progression and perspicuous understanding of the stepping stones between each of the SG Ball, Harold Matthew’s, under-20s and Queensland/NSW Cups.

    A clear-cut pathway will ensure players – primarily those that are underdeveloped – avoid falling victim to the endemic flaws of the system, particularly during years when walking away from the game appears the most rational option. Not every player that graduates from the NYC is of the same pedigree as Nathan Cleary, Tom Trbojevic and Ashley Taylor, whose natural rugby league prowess and smarts have enabled them to make a seamless, untarnished transition directly from the NYC to the NRL.

    Whatever you make of the current format and its logistical deficiencies, by no means should an under-20s competition be eradicated. The NRL has not yet succumbed to its steady disillusionment with the NYC, but it’s doing everything it can to hold us to ransom over it, while simultaneously heightening our intolerance of it.

    These players are the future and the lifeline of the NRL. They must be treated accordingly, through the implementation of a sustainable rugby league breeding ground that is an untiring advocate of their development.

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    The Crowd Says (20)

    • Roar Guru

      July 12th 2016 @ 4:37pm
      Cadfael said | July 12th 2016 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

      The ideal set up was that each NRL side has a reserve grade team and an under 20s team. This system would and did work well for the eleven NSW (including Canberra) sides. The Warriors need assistance more than any other side due to travel but this had to be expected in having a national competition. One change may be to drop the U 2 competition and replace it with an under 18 comp such as the existing SG Ball Cup in NSW (the Ball Cup has 15 teams, add in Melbourne for for the 16th). In Qld play a similar competition including the Warriors.Still expensive but far less so than against an U 20s for the rest of the NRL sides.

    • July 12th 2016 @ 5:34pm
      Mark said | July 12th 2016 @ 5:34pm | ! Report

      Does not seem to be a problem for 50% of Clubs

      Lets not forget a FG RL club used to have FG RG 3G at the top tier for 100 years

      With U21 U19 U17 U15 playing in a 9 week competition with top junior comp running for 106 years

      Clubs that complain about airfares still fly players for their QLD or NSW Cup clashes

      We now have twice as much money as before

      Every NRL should be able to field a team in a National RG and National U20 competition

      Plus Adelaide Perth Riverina Coffs and Tamworth should replace NRL clubs in a revamped NSW Cup

      Then let NZ Clubs play in a NZ Cup no need to fly players in and out of NZ

      The Mellinesia Cup between PNG and Fiji club was a step forward

    • July 12th 2016 @ 6:11pm
      McNaulty said | July 12th 2016 @ 6:11pm | ! Report

      The NRL clubs should just have one team with a squad of 25 players.
      I’d like the NRL clubs to have less to do with junior player development. Junior player development should be done at the NSW cup and Qld cup level (and the NRL clubs should have nothing to do with this level). There should be a junior draft from the NSW & Qld cup into the NRL.
      The NRL should sell the tv rights to the NSW & Qld cup to Fox so that Fox shows all the games live (even if that means getting less $$$.

    • July 12th 2016 @ 6:16pm
      Alex L said | July 12th 2016 @ 6:16pm | ! Report

      Removing the NYC doesn’t burn a bridge, if anything it should allow the creation of multiple bridges from having a couple of U20s competitions at a NSW/QLD cup type level, and crucially this doesn’t raise the expectations of these young men putting their names up in lights so early only to dash them when they fail to make reserve grade in the seniors let alone NRL (which will be the case for the majority of the NYC players).

    • July 12th 2016 @ 6:43pm
      MikeTV said | July 12th 2016 @ 6:43pm | ! Report

      The NSWRL intends to create a new “Platinum League” with more regional representation, but with some of the old heritage Clubs.

      A neat solution would be to mirror this State League competition at an U’20s (Jersey Flegg), U’18’s (SG Ball), U’16’s (Harold Matthews) level and also remove the NRL Clubs from the State League.

      The State League Clubs would be “full members” in the NSWRL Organisation, while the NRL Clubs would have their membership downgraded to “observer” status

      Of course, each NRL Club would be affiliated with a State League Club.

    • July 12th 2016 @ 7:22pm
      Jacko said | July 12th 2016 @ 7:22pm | ! Report

      It has been very successful so not sure why it should change. The main difference between now and before the U20 is the amount of Kiwi’s playing in the competition (35% of NRL) which has of course led to NZ having far greater success at test level and NZ are now no 1.
      It would appear that clubs are going to get far more money allocated to them from the new tv deal and all they want to do is pay people who are currently getting 500k a season, another 300k. Why dont the clubs spread the money across their complete operation and keep the current system in place or perhaps they could limit even further the wages a U20 player can recieve as already there are rumours of promising juniors on big money at clubs just to ensure they dont go elsewhere

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