As we seeing the start of a new code war?

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    NRL CEO David Gallop speaks to waiting media. AAP Image/Joe Castro

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    One of The Daily Telegraph’s screaming headlines last week was ‘Wests Tigers utility Tim Moltzen in talks to play rugby union’.

    This was the second story in a week that revealed that the NSWRU was trying to sign up an NRL star. The first was in regards to Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, the Roosters forward.

    Technically the NSWRU would be getting one back with Waerea-Hargreaves, as the Kiwi has played club rugby in Sydney before and starred for Australia at the under-19 world championship in Ireland in 2007.

    But he has definitely made his name in the NRL and with the NZ national team.

    So, two highly regarded NRL players in rugby’s sights in less than a week.

    There may have been a lot of hoopla and hyperbole around the AFL’s capture of Karmaicheal Hunt and Isreal Folau, but they were stunts pure and simple.

    As always has been the case, the two rugby codes battle for players and we may be about to see a newly emerging code war. or perhaps this is just business as usual.

    Former leaguie Quade Cooper is tipping to join the NRL following the Lions tour in 2013, going to either Parramatta or the Roosters. How he could handle the defensive load in league remains to be seen.

    Ex-Bulldog and shoulder charge merchant Sonny Bill Williams is also coming back to the NRL, if the reports are to be believed, and joining the Bondi boys.

    This would be the case of the NRL hitting back and reclaiming two stars, Cooper being a league junior.

    But obviously the ARU isn’t sitting back idly. Former Melbourne Storm and Gold Coast Titans product Joseph Tomane is lining up for the Brumbies this season, while fellow ex-Titan Shannon Walker and Brisbane Bronco Denan Kemp are in the Australian Rugby Sevens squad.

    Of course, revealing just how inter-twined these two codes are, Tomane was an Australian Schoolboys (rugby) star.

    The similar qualities of the two sports means than many players have skills that can be showcased in both codes. The signings of Cooper and Williams, if they are pulled off, will be huge coups for the 13-man code.

    The fact that the ARU now has five Super Rugby franchises to fill and the impact of the NRL salary cap means that the rugby union body is always on the lookout for good league talent.

    Cooper Vuna and Jarrod Saffey are two ex-mungos playing rugby for the Melbourne Rebels.

    Just as Wendell Sailor, Matt Rogers and Lote Tuqiri were signed up at the beginning of last decade as marketing ploys, expect the ARU to continue with a few choice signings in the next few years.

    But if the NRL gets its $1 billion broadcast rights deal it will have the resources of its own to hit back by snaring some big-name players, like Williams and Cooper.

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    The Crowd Says (61)

    • March 20th 2012 @ 3:19am
      Onor said | March 20th 2012 @ 3:19am | ! Report

      the NRL can compete at club level but not international. End of year tours
      and trips to argentina and south africa and europe they cant compete

      • March 21st 2012 @ 2:02am
        Queensland's game is rugby league said | March 21st 2012 @ 2:02am | ! Report

        There is the Four Nations, which is held in England every 2nd year. Usually involves a trip to France and England.

    • March 20th 2012 @ 4:59am
      kingplaymaker said | March 20th 2012 @ 4:59am | ! Report

      The ARU is in no position to compete against the NRL for its stars. The strategy has changed too. The ARU no longer goes after big NRL stars, although it might provide a small top-up to a club that’s keen to buy one, but only a small top-up. Instead it supposedly goes after them as teenagers when they cost less, not that there is THE SLIGHTEST evidence that they have been successful in doing this. Jamal Idriss in an interview said he was better at union that league, and played for NSW U-16. The failure to secure him shows the success of the ARU at recruiting teenagers, and it should be noted he would have been ideal for the Wallabies as they lack a BIG, POWERFUL runner.

      The league converts under discussion: Tomane, Tupou are not big stars and so the clubs are able to afford them without ARU top-ups. These are the type of players who move to rugby these days, not the stars.

      League players divide into two types: those with a) strong rugby backgrounds, and b) those without.

      Increasingly and wisely the franchises are going for the first group.

      From that first group there are two sub-groups,1) the under 25s and 2) the over 25s.

      Increasingly and wisely the franchises are going for the first.

      So a1, that is strong rugby background, under25s, is the range they are going for now.

      If of course there were rich single private owners allowed in rugby then they could buy much more expensive players, such as Jamal Idriss.

      Personally I would like to see all rugby’s own players such as Waerea-Hargreaves and Tomane, and those with strong rugby backgrounds such as Idriss, playing Super rugby as then the Australian player pool would be at its natural strength and not the artificially depleted level it is at the moment.

      • March 20th 2012 @ 8:07am
        trakl said | March 20th 2012 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        The Australian scene “artificially depleted ” – as if rugby league is a code of football that needs your permission first to exist!

        There are plenty of famous and not-so-famous Australian rugby union players with strong rugby league backgrounds – which might make some think that the Australian rugby union scene has been boosted – “artificially” or otherwise – and not “depleted.”

        • March 20th 2012 @ 11:35am
          kingplaymaker said | March 20th 2012 @ 11:35am | ! Report

          trakl league takes the Lion’s share, in fact the share of a whole pride of lions, of the ‘play both codes equally when teenager’ players. However, there are some players who are really rugby’s, that play international age group rugby such as JWH and Berrick Barnes. These are the ones that by nature should be in rugby, and it is those who should not be lost.

          • March 20th 2012 @ 9:43pm
            trakl said | March 20th 2012 @ 9:43pm | ! Report

            I repeat, there are famous Wallabies who grew up playing rugby league for years before playing their first game of rugby union. Work your way down the list from Campo…

          • March 20th 2012 @ 11:18pm
            ufa said | March 20th 2012 @ 11:18pm | ! Report

            so like benji marshall then?

          • March 21st 2012 @ 2:07am
            Queensland's game is rugby league said | March 21st 2012 @ 2:07am | ! Report

            What you fail to mention is many of these so-called union boys went to schools that discriminate against rugby league. The only reason they play rugby union for their schools is because rugby league is not part of the curriculum. It’s a bit rich to cast these children as union boys when they’re denied the opportunity to decide for themselves. The fact they decide to play rugby league when they’re out of school — and no longer limited to playing union — says all I need to know about which sport they like the best.

            • March 21st 2012 @ 5:53am
              kingplaymaker said | March 21st 2012 @ 5:53am | ! Report

              By the same token, anyone growing up in league-dominated areas will be under immense social pressure not to play rugby union.

              Besides why should a school play rugby league if it doesn’t want to or think it’s worth playing?

      • March 20th 2012 @ 9:55am
        yankee_rob said | March 20th 2012 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        You hit the nail on the head when you talked about rich private owners. IMHO this is what Super Rugby needs in order to grow. This also frees up the unions to develop grassroots rugby and in particular tier 2 competitions that help develop international and super rugby players.

        • March 20th 2012 @ 10:32am
          kingplaymaker said | March 20th 2012 @ 10:32am | ! Report

          yankee-rob think how much money the ARU could spend on the game if they didn’t have to pay so much to franchises, and how much on youth contracts.

          • March 21st 2012 @ 1:22am
            yankee_rob said | March 21st 2012 @ 1:22am | ! Report


            The ARU could spend millions on grassroots and tier two rugby if they allowed their SR teams to be privately owned. Unfortunately there is this fear about private ownership, but just look at the English and French competitions they have private owners and the game is going from strength to strength there.

        • March 20th 2012 @ 4:46pm
          AndyS said | March 20th 2012 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

          I’d have to disagree there. Rich private owners of professional sports teams inevitably lead to Club v Country issues. What would be much better would be well-to-do private owners of semi-professional rugby teams, sifting through the best of the amateur ranks to develop players and coaches ready to take the next step. They could own the teams, the competition and all the revenues, motivating them to make a success of it. But they would ultimately be providing only the function that the ARU claims to be incapable of achieving – that of a stepping stone between amateur club and professional rugby.

          • March 21st 2012 @ 1:59am
            yankee_rob said | March 21st 2012 @ 1:59am | ! Report

            Having private owners startup and run a tier 2 competition is a good idea. However, imo the SR teams need to be run by rich owners with the ARU running grassroots rugby.

            This could lead to the ARU and privately funded SR teams going into partnership and starting a tier 2 developmental rugby competition preferably in the smaller markets, so they don’t compete with the SR matches.

            I don’t really see club versus country as an issue for rugby that is more of a soccer thing.

            • March 21st 2012 @ 2:42am
              AndyS said | March 21st 2012 @ 2:42am | ! Report

              You’d need to tell that to the Argentinean, Samoan, Tongan and Fijian players that have historically struggled to get released for internationals. The IRB has had to specifically legislate for it specifically because clubs were refusing to release players. As I understand it, even now some players refuse to go because test injuries may not be adequately covered by insurance and could cost them their club contract.

              It is going to be bad enough this year, when the SR clubs will be sweating on their key players getting injured playing Tests four weeks before the finals. Put the return on private investment on the line as well and I think you could pretty much guarantee every key player would develop a debilitating three week injury at the 78th minute of the match before the Test window, every single year.

              National bodies and private investors don’t go into partnerships; one or the other owns the game and in all the big money sports it is the club owners. It would be incredibly unlikely that Rugby could be the exception – the smart money would have to be on the big money.

              • March 21st 2012 @ 3:52am
                yankee_rob said | March 21st 2012 @ 3:52am | ! Report

                Anyway you look at it the current system is not sustainable, the unions don’t have enough money to keep growing the game. Something needs to change i.e. private investment.

                You make a good point about players coming down with injury, but it has happened in the Northern Hemisphere….. yet.

              • March 21st 2012 @ 10:52am
                AndyS said | March 21st 2012 @ 10:52am | ! Report

                Hasn’t it? Every mid year tour we hear protests about weakened sides and protests that “no honestly, they are absolutely the best side we can put on the field at this moment in time”, as everyone goes away to look up all the unrecognisable names on the team list. Still, I’d agree that Rugby has generally handled it fairly well to date, but it is an inevitable issue as club competitions increase player game loads. Sooner or later Rugby will have to address it, as the mid and end of year tours become increasingly obvious fund-raisers and training runs for the World Cup (a la soccer). It may mean a step backward into more meaningful tours, but at the same time it will have to be a step forward into a structure that ensures that the best of each country are on the field at the same time, at their peak and desperately wanting to be there.

                Absolutely agree on PI though. The trick will be to find a way for it to contribute, avoids the “rich man’s toy” syndrome, gives it a return and all without selling the farm. A challenging problem, but hopefully one that has a solution somewhere.

              • March 22nd 2012 @ 12:45am
                yankee_rob said | March 22nd 2012 @ 12:45am | ! Report

                Andy S,

                Yes i agree that Europe has had a habit of sending under strength teams down to play the Southern Hemisphere, but i feel this is more directly attributed to the long club season they play as opposed to the private owners holding players back. Player welfare (rest) is always going to be an issue regardless if the unions or a private owner runs the team. However the good news is that the RFU have listened to the criticism and has agreed to start sending full strength teams with extended tours in June. This is one of the reasons that the RFU stopped the Churchill Cup, because the Saxon players will now join the Red Rose on their tours down under.

                As you stated P.I. is a must. If not in the form of a private owner then maybe a private consortium. The kiwis could be on to something with the provincial or state unions buying the professional teams with the backing of a private consortium. Regardless it will all come out in the wash at some point.

                Going back to an earlier post this would all be alot easier if there was a global rugby season similar to the one Bruce Craig is proposing.

              • March 22nd 2012 @ 10:42am
                AndyS said | March 22nd 2012 @ 10:42am | ! Report


              • March 22nd 2012 @ 10:56am
                AndyS said | March 22nd 2012 @ 10:56am | ! Report

                Thinking further, folk generally think of Club v Country as clubs not releasing players but it is also (probably more) manifested in the length of season and number of games. It is more insidious, as privately owned clubs will feel they have the right to play any of their players if they are available and it falls entirely on the player themselves and the national body to manage their workload through the season. It is a tragedy that, because of player club workload and the need to manage the workload of the first team, they have had to deny most of the second string players international exposure and some second tier Test nations the chance to play against improved opposition.

                Unless they do something about it, it will continue as a problem even if they went to an international season. As the motivation to that was described, the clubs liked the idea of internationals in summer as it would reduce disruption to the club season and (by small extension) allow them to play more games. By the time the internationals came round, there’d be no players left.

    • March 20th 2012 @ 7:04am
      James said | March 20th 2012 @ 7:04am | ! Report

      As a tigers supporter i only have one thing to say about this article. Please take moltzen, I will pay the cab fare to RU HQ if you sign him now.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download The Roar’s iPhone App in the App Store here.

    • March 20th 2012 @ 8:00am
      trakl said | March 20th 2012 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      Is the description of rugby league players as “mungos” de rigueur among Australian rugby union aficionados who fancy themselves as socially superior?

      Are there not some Australians who see it as not merely insulting – but racist?

      • March 20th 2012 @ 11:50am
        AC said | March 20th 2012 @ 11:50am | ! Report

        Fair go.

        Since when is calling someone a mongrel racist?

        • March 20th 2012 @ 1:15pm
          enforcer said | March 20th 2012 @ 1:15pm | ! Report


          I played for a rugby club where we’d call the spud player on the other team “the rabbit” to put them off their game (I was never really for this tactic but that’s not the point).

          One week we did it against a mostly Pacific Islander team and they cried racism and it was completely blown out of proportion. I suppose I could understand this misinterpretation but it could have easily been avoided had they taken an innocent until proven guilty approach.

          The moral of the story is, whilst the word might be offensive don’t brand it racism when it isn’t. It doesn’t need to be turned it into a needlessly big deal.

        • March 20th 2012 @ 10:01pm
          p.Tah said | March 20th 2012 @ 10:01pm | ! Report

          Very poor trakl, you’re the one taking this down the racist path. I don’t like the term but it’s not related to race.

        • March 20th 2012 @ 10:06pm
          Rough Conduct said | March 20th 2012 @ 10:06pm | ! Report

          Mungo is not racist. It is a light-hearted jab at League players’ apparent lack of intelligence and civillity, I always thought it came from the character in Blazing Saddles.

    • March 20th 2012 @ 8:06am
      kiwidave said | March 20th 2012 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      Code war? I don’t think so. I would expect players switching codes to be business as usual from now on.

    • March 20th 2012 @ 8:15am
      Crosscoder said | March 20th 2012 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      I saw Denan Kemp back with St George unless my eyes deceive me earlier this year.Actually not quite , he is playing rl with the 2nd grade NSW cup with illawarra.
      Whilst ever there are opportunities to earn a living playing either rugby code,players will continue to go back and forth.And come expansion with the NRL ,it will continue.More so with young NZedders.
      I heard a rumour Berrick Barnes will eventually head back to the Broncos or the 2nd brisbane side(if and when it comes in).
      John cut the mungos description,I thought time and maturity took us beyond that naming.

      • March 20th 2012 @ 12:19pm
        Go warriors said | March 20th 2012 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

        Well said Crosscroder players will forever be switching codes and teams taking the best deal on offer. Who can blame them either, they are only in the game for a very short time.

        I think the introduction of the u20s has been a great success by the NRL. It gives youngsters from 17-20 that are not quite ready for the big time a chance to impress selectors. Even in NZ a lot of the talented 1st 15 rugby players are opting to play for the warriors u20s as they know this will give them the best chance to be noticed.

        If union does not want to lose its best youngster to League then they will need to also introduce an u20s of some sort.

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