Australian rugby is re-implementing a third tier, as ARU CEO Bill Pulver announced from Edinburgh this week that a new national competition of between eight and 10 teams will commence next year.
Club rugby tournaments around Australia will be brought forward to run concurrently with Super Rugby and the new National Rugby Championship (NRC) will run from mid-August, at the same time as the Rugby Championship.
The competition will use a two month round robin format, followed by a two week finals series.
The ARU are in negotiations with Fox Sports, meaning the competition is likely to remain on pay TV rather than be seen on free-to-air.
A tender process will be used to confirm who the sides are and what regions they will represent. Canberra, Perth and Melbourne are confirmed for teams along, with the Sydney and Brisbane heartlands.
Western Sydney will be seen as a key distinct region within Sydney.
Pulver has used the term “regional” in his description of where sides will be based. I infer this to mean that existing club teams will not be candidates for the new competition, as any side being entered must be able to gather support from a region.
Most Roarers commenting on the news were pleased to hear it; others were clearly waiting for more detail, while a vocal minority were concerned that this announcement is the death knell for club rugby.
I think it will actually save club rugby.
The Shute Shield has been dominated for too long by Sydney University, Eastwood and –although they have been off the boil the last couple of years – Randwick. Southern Districts are pushing to join that elite group, but need a few more years of strong performance before they qualify.
In Canberra, the Tuggeranong Vikings and recently Queenbeyan have been on top.
In Queensland Premier Rugby, the competition has been shared around quite well in modern times. Since 1946, however, Brothers and University of Queensland have won the premiership 20 times each and been runners up 11 and 16 times respectively.
Too often in the club competitions we have seen unfair advantages allowing the top players to be collated into a single team.
Sydney University in particular have attracted the ire of the rest of the Shute Shield competition with the fact that they only need to be in striking distance of the leaders to then dominate once their Super Rugby players return.
The club competitions are now going to have to be won by the same players that played the season. We won’t have an influx of Super players coming in for the last few matches and changing the entire complexion of the tournament.
Clubs that have been sending themselves broke trying to compete with the big boys will be on a more level playing field. If Pulver has his way this level of rugby will become fully amateur again, evening things out further.
The best players from the club competition will then get what this country has been crying out for – a concentrated competition with the non-Wallaby Super players. We’ll get a chance to see these players develop rather than having them sitting in extended playing squads.
Bench and squad players from Super teams will mix it with the rising talent and they will all be trying to make a name for themselves against the more established names in the competition.
The regular starters at Super level will be looking to distinguish themselves and push for call-ups into the national side, while Wallabies returning from injury will have a place to prove their form and fitness rather than throwing them back into the international deep end.
I’m very excited by the news. I think it is going to be great for developing talent in this country by giving the best of our club players the chance to perform at a higher level.
I think it will be great for club rugby to return to its roots of being the community-based feeder system to representative levels.
Most importantly, it will relieve the pressure on clubs that are struggling to survive under the current model.
I’d just prefer it if they get it on free-to-air television.
What do you think Roarers? I’m particularly keen to hear from those against what Pulver has proposed, as I don’t see the down side for club rugby that a few of you have claimed.