The future of Australian rugby is the NRC

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    The NSW Supreme Court has pretty much added the final nail the coffin of the Western Force in Super Rugby. The decision has been made and even though the ARU have been shown to be shifty in their dealings with the WARU, the courts have sided with the former.

    Now is the time for all concerned to bury the hatchet, not into each other’s back, and try to find a way to move forward. The ARU needs to swallow some pride and look at a way of making this into a positive.

    After all, Twiggy Forrest is suddenly a Force fan offering huge dollars and it’s ridiculous of the ARU to snub its nose at this loot. Talk about ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’.

    Despite the bluster and talk there is absolutely no way that anyone, not even Twiggy Forrest, can start off a successful rebel rugby competition throughout the Pacific Islands and Asia. The player quality and financial returns are just not there and the ARU would simply ban anyone who joined this competition.

    I just cannot see Forrest sinking his hard-earned into such a venture. Forget Super Rugby also, it’s dying and beyond resuscitation and may not survive 2020. So rather than stir the pot with a rebel competition or sink money into a competition that Australian fans (and many players) just cannot relate to, why not get into the current system and aim at enhancing the NRC into a top-grade rugby competition?

    Get Twiggy to agree to fund the NRC and make additions, as it’s very probable the NRC will be the premier rugby competition in Australia within a few years. Of course more needs to be added and a lot of negotiation and agreements need to be struck. Bring in a second Western Australia-South Australia amalgamated team (to keep Twiggy happy) or even another Pacific Islander team and make it a 10-team NRC.

    But the big prize is free-to-air television, and it would pay to take a look at the history of the Big Bash League. Similar to rugby, Fox Sports covered the first two BBL competitions (2011-2012) so free-to-air viewers could take a running jump. Then in 2012, Channel 10 showed a couple of the finals matches, saw the potential and bought the rights in 2013.

    Since then the BBL competition has skyrocketed. Is there any reason to deny that a smaller but similar result could occur if a free-to-air station takes up the NRC? The obvious choice to offer the rights to is the new Channel 10-NBC organisation (though any other free-to-air station will do if they knock it back) to take the whole competition to free-to-air throughout Australia.

    Offer some concessions for the first two years and they would likely grab it with both hands. As Rupert Murdoch and Sky UK can attest, sport is what pulls viewers in. And sport is relatively cheap compared to the cost of most other TV shows.

    Make sure they show the matches live, even if it has to be on alternate channels such as One or Eleven. It still offers almost 10 hours of match and review time for a popular sport, plus late night fill-ins with replays.

    There should be more shows with highlights and reviews of upcoming matches could also be added as program fillers. Follow the NRL-AFL model, neither of these sports would have their huge followings without the constant promotion and viewers on free-to-air.

    Remember also that both of the AFL and NRL seasons are winding down so all the free-to-air stations don’t have all that much footy to show. The NRC runs between mid-August and October and it would make sense to offer a good rugby competition for those free-to-air sports-starved viewers.

    If the concept takes off, Twiggy will likely get his money back fairly quickly plus the love and affection of all the Western Australia folks and we rugby nutters from all over Oz. The better promotion will see match attendances increase and rugby would get far more fans able to see matches.

    This flows down to more kids wanting to play the game. A national footprint on free-to-air will also bring in some much-needed sponsorship money. The major problem of course is getting the various rugby unions into one room to agree on everyone moving together.

    Dare I suggest the movers of the plan bring an old-fashioned mace into any meetings with the NSWRU, Queensland Rugby Union or any representatives from the Sydney or Brisbane clubs. Their idea of what constitutes an NRC team is too self-centred. I know I’ll be shot down but honestly, the best way forward is for the ARU or state unions to initially control the team set-ups until the concept takes hold.

    It’s a win-win for everyone without further costly litigation, which can only end in tears for everyone (unless you are a lawyer). It will need someone to initially offer a good deal to a free-to-air TV station to get a two to three-year contract. The other obstacle is the ARU and various state/Pacific Island unions really need to talk tough to Foxtel to either release NRC games to free-to-air or lose the contract on the next renewal.

    At present, rugby is in dire straits (not the 1980s band) and something radical needs to be done. The ARU is cash-strapped and only today an article appeared on their website titled “ARU ‘insolvent in two years’ with five teams”. They simply cannot afford any more disasters such as Super Rugby expansion to Mongolia, Nicaragua or Finland with promises by the IRB or World Rugby of boatloads of riches.

    The solution I have offered is not the panacea for all Australian rugby’s problems, but it does offer a way forward, regardless of whether Super Rugby survives or not.

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