Rugby’s loss could be League’s gain in WA

Ed Nixon Roar Pro

By , Ed Nixon is a Roar Pro

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    Every Western Australian rugby fan’s worst nightmare was confirmed today as The Australian Rugby Union announced the Western Force will be axed from Super Rugby.

    After a decision was made in April this year that the competition would revert back to a 15-team format, as opposed to the 18-team model, it was either the Force or the Melbourne Rebels who were to be cut.

    Unfortunately for the Force, their time is up.

    As someone who lives in Western Australia, and has been a keen follower of the Force since 2009, I am saddened by this news.

    Although the Force never pulled huge numbers, the team performed admirably this season, finishing second in the Australian conference, only behind the Brumbies.

    WA rugby has produced some of the most exciting, young players in recent times, with Wallabies Adam Coleman, Kyle Godwin, Ross Haylett-Petty and Curtis Rona all coming through the Force system at some point in their development – not to mention up-and-coming stars Nick Jooste and Clay Uyen.

    Despite the best efforts of West Australian businessman, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, the damage had already been done.

    Arguably though, rugby union’s loss could be rugby league’s gain.

    At this moment, WA does not have an NRL team and hasn’t had a team compete in the primary Australian league since the Perth Reds in 1997.

    This could all change.

    With there being growing calls for the NRL to be less ‘Sydney based’, the idea of an expansion to include a WA team and possibly another Brisbane team has been discussed.

    With the axing of the Force, and no professional rugby being played in WA, there has never been a better time for West Aussies to see their state represented in the NRL.

    Let’s take a look at some numbers.

    In May and July, nib Stadium in Perth hosted two NRL fixtures – Rabbitohs vs Storm and Sea Eagles vs Warriors.

    The games attracted a combined figure of over 17,500 people (mainly due to terrible weather).

    Compare this with the majority of Force home games where you get between 7,000 – 9,000 attendees and you see the numbers are fairly similar.

    Taking a further look back into games held at nib, and you will find that four of the top five attendance figures the stadium has ever had for sporting fixtures all came from rugby league.

    20,283 – Kangaroos vs Kiwis (October 2016)
    20,272 – Rabbitohs vs Warriors (June 2015)
    20,267 – Rabbitohs vs Warriors (June 2014)
    20,220 – Rabbitohs vs Warriors (July 2013)

    This shows there is a market for a WA based rugby league team – a market which the NRL should tap into.

    Current Force stars Curtis Rona and Chance Peni both started out playing union in WA before making the switch over to the 13-man game.

    The reason for this?

    There was no NRL team in WA. The only options they had to pursue a career was by moving over east.

    The concern for WA rugby will be the retention of young talent. With no Force, what is keeping these young players in WA and away from the Eastern states?

    All eyes will be on Rugby WA, as we wait to find out more.

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