NRC update part 1: Queensland, Perth, Melbourne and Canberra

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    What’s going on with the NRC? The comp starts in less than two months, and we haven’t heard a thing.

    The ARU’s newly-minted domestic professional rugby competition, the National Rugby Championship, does indeed kick off on Thursday August 21.

    And it’s true. There hasn’t been a whole lot of info out there. Reports and questions as to whether the NRC will even go ahead still pop up.

    In fact, we’ve been discussing this mini-project for several weeks now on The Roar. We have some of the most passionate rugby readers and contributors in the country, and we all want the NRC to succeed. But we also want information. Therefore, it was time to bring whatever information we could find to the surface.

    General Manager, National Teams and Rugby Operations for the ARU, and former Brumbies CEO Andrew Fagan gave us a great insight into what’s been happening at the competition level in his post last Thursday. Fagan’s post came about an hour after I’d spoken to him and he’d told me much of the same information.

    Regardless, he’s saved me the need to include that background information; just know that that despite the evident lack of news, a lot is happening behind the scenes and has happened already. A more detailed chat with Andrew Fagan will form part 3 next week, an overall view of the competition to follow-up what the clubs have been doing themselves.

    News late last week in the Fairfax press that Sydney construction company Buildcorp is poised to become naming rights sponsor for the NRC for the next three years worth mentioning. Sydney and Brisbane club rugby people will know the Buildcorp name from the front of the Sydney University and Uni of Queensland jerseys.

    I’ve spoken to all nine NRC clubs over the last week or so, and it’s already evident that some teams are more advanced than others are. It’s also evident that some teams believe they can’t say as much as they‘d like to, while others have been quite proactive on the information front.

    Regardless, we’re going to share what we’ve been able to find out, and it starts today with the five clubs outside NSW. In Part 2 tomorrow, I’ll outline what’s been happening with NSW Country, and the three Sydney-based clubs.

    Brisbane City and Queensland Country
    Though the clubs will be broken down individually, all the behind the scenes work been done for the Queensland teams has been a coordinated approach from the Queensland Rugby Union, mirroring how they run the Reds.

    The Reds have taken a very deliberate approach in how they manage their two NRC teams, and how both Brisbane City and Queensland Country fit into their common vision for rugby in Queensland. This will ensure the pathway from the grassroots in Queensland to the Wallabies is clear and obvious.

    While there was initially some interest from Brisbane clubs in creating NRC entities themselves, a combination of the clubs’ own due diligence and that of the Queensland Rugby Union reached the conclusion there was no great benefit to the clubs individually. It’s the same conclusion Eastwood recently arrived at, in announcing their financial withdrawal from the Greater Sydney Rams franchise. It also ensures there is no possibility of club politics upsetting any NRC apple carts in Queensland.

    The Queensland Rugby Union, in maintaining control of both sides, can extend their professional programs out further this way, and expose more Brisbane Premier Rugby and Queensland Country players to the same high performance programs utilised by the Reds.

    The Brisbane City and Queensland Country sides will be formally launched at the conclusion of Super Rugby, and current Reds fans can expect the same level of team-specific info coming out of the Queensland Rugby Union’s Ballymore HQ very soon.

    Though the NRC sides will have their own social media and online presences, if you’re hooked into the various different Reds’ channels now, you will begin to see a lot of NRC content very soon. Likewise, once the competition is up and running, what you currently see and enjoy from the Reds before, during, and post-game will be precisely what you can expect from whichever Queensland NRC team you support.

    The message from the Queensland Rugby Union is that while you might not be able to see it currently, there’s a lot happening, and they’re right behind making their two teams as strong and well supported as possible.

    In the interim, the Queensland Rugby Union have put together a useful Frequently Asked Questions page on the Reds site. This page and the Twitter handle for both sides came live in the last week or so.

    The Reds also hinted to me that the two Wallabies Tests in Queensland while the NRC was on could present unique opportunities. While they wouldn’t confirm nor deny NRC curtain raisers before said Tests, and while it might not be necessary for the Bledisloe at Suncorp on October 18, it would certainly make a lot of sense to have Queensland Country play a home game before the Test against Argentina on the Gold Coast, on September 13. If it happens, remember where you read it.

    Qld strips

    Bris City logo

    Brisbane City
    Coach: Reds forwards coach Nick Stiles. Both Queensland teams will be managed by Queensland Rugby’s General Manager of Rugby Operations, Sam Cordingley, and be based out of the Queensland Rugby Union’s Ballymore headquarters.

    Home ground: Ballymore Oval.

    Home games confirmed: The Reds are tight-lipped at this stage on the draw for both sides, but it was reported last week that Brisbane City will host the Sydney Stars to launch the NRC in the first Fox Sports televised game, on Thursday 21 August, kicking off at 7:30pm AEST.

    Playing squad announced/expectations: The Reds’ position on how they split the Super Rugby-contracted players is to simply draw on the individual’s background and junior club or schoolboy rugby history, though there may have to be some shuffling of players if either team is short in a particular position.

    They wouldn’t be drawn into speculating on actual players, but guys like Liam Gill, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Nick Frisby, and even the ‘import’ Reds like the Fainga’as and Lachie Turner could probably be expected in the City squad.

    Logo and jersey design/colours: Brisbane City will wear a yellow and blue playing strip (note, the jerseys above are indicative only), the traditional colours of Brisbane, with a crest featuring the traditional Brisbane City Hall logo inside the iconic Queensland Rugby ‘Q’ on the chest of the jersey.

    Major sponsor: Negotiations continue, but the Queensland Rugby Union expect to finalise front-of-jersey sponsors for both sides before the official team launch.

    Website / Twitter / Facebook / Others: http://www.redsrugby.com.au/NRC.aspx | @BrisCity_NRC | other channels to be launched soon, in line with what currently exists for the Reds.

    Qld Country logo

    Queensland Country
    Coach: Reds attack coach Steve Meehan, and managed by Queensland Rugby Union’s GM of Rugby Operations, Sam Cordingley. Other coaching appointments will be announced in the coming weeks for both Queensland sides.

    Home ground: it is envisaged Queensland Country will play at a variety of regional centres throughout the state. The Reds wouldn’t name the towns and cities involved, but did agree that most corners of the Queensland compass will be covered, so perhaps Townsville or Cairns in the north, Rockhampton centrally, Toowoomba to the west, and perhaps the Sunshine or Gold Coast too.

    Home games confirmed: To be confirmed, though the Reds could confirm that Fox Sports will not be televising home games in regional centres.

    Playing squad announced/expectations: Squad composition to be formed as outlined above for Brisbane City. Players like Rod Davies, Greg Holmes, and maybe even NSW country-bred Beau Robinson seem obvious. Rob Simmons, from the tiny central Queensland town of Theodore (pop. 450) looms as a logical Wallabies squad ‘ambassador player’.

    Logo and jersey design/colours: Queensland Country will wear their traditional blue and white colours as indicated above, with the traditional Orchid logo inside the iconic ‘Q’. Eagle-eyed Roarers might have spotted the maroon, gold, and blue horizontal bar under the logo; I’ve noticed this on the Reds jerseys too, and wondered of the significance but it is – of course – the representative colours of Queensland, Brisbane, and Country. It’s a nice touch to carry this over to the NRC teams too, a continuation of the pathways theme.

    Major sponsor: Negotiations continue, but the Queensland Rugby Union expect to finalise front-of-jersey sponsors for both side before the official team launch.

    Website / Twitter / Facebook / Others: http://www.redsrugby.com.au/NRC.aspx | @QldCountry_NRC | other channels to be launched soon, in line with what currently exists for the Reds.

    spirit logo

    Perth Spirit
    Rugby WA and the Western Force organisation will manage and run the Spirit team, as was the case for the ARC in 2007, when they were also able to pull together one of the stronger squads in that competition.

    The Spirit are one of several NRC teams that can’t say a whole lot as yet – under instruction – and that all details around playing strip, squad members and their draw can’t be revealed until the official NRC launch a few weeks out from the start of the competition.

    Coach: Still to be confirmed, but highly unlikely to be Western Force head coach Michael Foley. Force assistants Dave Wessels and/or Kevin Foote are seemingly in the frame, though Rugby WA aren’t saying.

    Home ground: I can confirm it’s highly unlikely that nib Stadium will be used, simply due to the costs involved. The Spirit are instead looking to play at some of the best club grounds in Perth, as a means of providing the best connection to the WA rugby community.

    Home games confirmed: Rugby WA wouldn’t comment on their draw, though I’ve been able to confirm that Perth play the University of Canberra Vikings in Canberra in Round 1.

    Playing squad announced/expectations: A good mix of contracted Western Force players (minus any Wallabies squad members) and local talent from the Pindan Premier Grade competition in Perth. My specific question to them about the likely participation of their foreign marquees – Ably Mathewson, Willem Steenkamp, and co. – went unanswered, however the Spirit were very quick to confirm that Jonny Wilkinson has not been approached by Rugby WA!

    Logo and jersey design/colours: Logo currently in circulation is the same as was used in the 2007 Australian Rugby Championship. Rugby WA told me the NRC strip “will feature the traditional state colours of black and gold in a modern design for the new competition”.

    Major sponsor: Still in the process of confirmation, however discussions are well progressed with a number of interested parties.

    Website / Twitter / Facebook: www.rugbywa.com.au | @PerthSpirit | Facebook page coming soon.

    rising logo

    Melbourne Rising
    The Melbourne Rising represents the pinnacle of community game in Victoria and the road to the Rebels. While the Rebels are obviously the big ticket item as far as professional rugby in Melbourne goes, the Rising is the final piece in the puzzle linking the grassroots of the game in Victoria to the professional ranks and beyond.

    Now, a young Victorian player can pursue a Wallaby dream without ever having to leave the state, a massive opportunity never previously available.

    With that in mind, Melbourne Rising will burst to life on July 18, in conjunction with and as a celebration of the conclusion of the 2014 Dewar Shield competition.

    The Rising will launch www.melbournerising.com.au on this date, and they’re already up on running on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

    The Rising will launch officially on July 25, where the playing strip, captain, and playing squad will be announced.

    Coach: Sean Hedger, current Rebels assistant. Hedger Will be supported by fellow Rebels assistant coach, and former Wallaby, Matt Cockbain, as well as Harlequin head coach Craig McGrath. Training base will be Harlequin Rugby Club, Ashgrove.

    Home ground: All games will be played at AAMI Park in Melbourne

    Home games confirmed: The Rising tell me their draw is still to be finalised, but they would say they have one home game confirmed as a Fox Sports televised game.

    The North Harbour Rays, however, have announced that they will start their NRC campaign in Melbourne against the Rising on Friday August 22. The Rising organisation is also working on their own plan where all other home games could be live streamed online.

    Playing squad announced/expectations: Super Rugby-contracted players, plus local Victorian players. With only a few Rebels players likely to feature in the Wallabies squad and only a small number of Rebels likely to play for opposing NRC teams in Sydney and Brisbane, the Rising are confident of a strong squad.

    It will feature 16 contracted Rebels, with the remaining 17 spots to come from the cream of the Dewar Shield, with names like former Wallaby and Rebel Lloyd Johannson already mentioned, as well as 2013 Australian Schoolboy and Samoa U20 prop Fereti Sa’aga.

    Logo and jersey design/colours: From the initial announcement of the Rising’s participation in the NRC, “the half star represents aspiring talent; a star on the rise. The floral embellishment represents the people of Victoria; the Pink Heath is the floral emblem of our great state. The Five Stars are synonymous with the Melbourne Rebels, and represent the ultimate reward for the Rising players.”

    Melbourne Rising will play in a predominantly pink jersey, with electric blue trim and highlights.

    Major sponsor: RaboDirect. Other Jersey sponsors in final stages of negotiations currently.

    Website / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram: www.melbournerebels.com.au | @MelbourneRising | ‘melbournerising’ on both Facebook and Instagram

    vikings logo

    University of Canberra Vikings
    A controversial partnership when first announced, but the commercial reality is that without the significant input from the powerful Vikings Group of licensed clubs, neither the Brumbies nor Uni of Canberra would’ve been able to afford the required level of investment on their own.

    Moreover, with no input from the Brumbies or UC, the side would simply have been known as the Tuggeranong Vikings.

    Regardless, with a strong complement of non-Wallaby Brumbies likely to kit up, the Vikings will be able to put together a decent squad, as was the case in the ARC in 2007.

    The Vikings have only TV game confirmed at this stage, against the Greater Sydney Rams at Parramatta Stadium on August 28.

    A separate UC Vikings website will be launched soon, while the Facebook page has been in operation for some time now, and was where the playing strip first popped up.

    Fans can expect a good level of social media engagement, including live tweets on match days.

    Coach: Dan McKellar, current Brumbies defence coach, who will be supported by Wests Head Coach, Craig Robberds.

    Home ground: Viking Park, Erindale. Brumbies Rugby confirmed that Fox Sports will not be broadcasting any Vikings home games.

    Home games confirmed: Draw and dates are still to be confirmed, though the Vikings will host Perth Spirit in Canberra in the first round. The Brumbies/Vikings also understand they have home games slotted in against Queensland Country (Round 3), North Harbour Rays (Round 7), and NSW Country (Round 8).

    Playing squad announced/expectations: Brumbies-contracted players, largely, with all remaining places in the squad will be filled by players from ACT club rugby. It is possible that some Brumbies will turn out for other NRC sides (Depending on Wallabies selections and injuries), with requests received from players with links to NSW Country, Queensland Country, Greater Sydney Rams, and North Harbour Rays.

    vikings strip

    Logo and jersey design/colours: Logo is essentially the same as the ARC Canberra Vikings side, save for the addition of “University of”, and even the jersey is very similar to what was worn back in 2007. While no other NRC strips have been released publically, the Vikings quite happily released theirs back in April.

    Major sponsor: Front-of-jersey sponsor still to be confirmed, though it can be confirmed that it will not be University of Canberra as per the Brumbies’ jersey.

    Website / Twitter / Facebook: http://www.brumbies.com.au | Twitter coming soon | ‘UniVikings’ on Facebook.

    Part 2 tomorrow: NSW Country, Greater Sydney Rams, North Harbour Rays, and Sydney Stars.

    Plus we reveal the NRC opening round fixture!

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (122)

    • July 8th 2014 @ 5:36am
      ChubbzyK96 said | July 8th 2014 @ 5:36am | ! Report

      Bring IT ON!
      I thought the ARC was good, but if this done right…..it will be awesome!

    • July 8th 2014 @ 6:04am
      Redsback said | July 8th 2014 @ 6:04am | ! Report

      Still quite concerned by the lack of information. Two months out and we have no idea about each team’s roster. Also wondering about the mystery rules that are going to be introduced – no mention of that yet either. I would prefer it if they just played to the current rules. I can’t see how playing to different rules to Super or Test rugby is going to attract casual fans who already find it a complicated game.

      TBH I’m also wondering why teams like Perth don’t go for NIB. It’s not like it is Suncorp Stadium. I’d personally prefer to watch a game in a decent stadium than at a park ground with no atmosphere. I understand they are trying to save costs, but if you played a Bledisloe at a suburban ground in front of 150 people the game would be missing something. High quality rugby looks poor when it is played at a nothing ground in front of a handful of spectators.

      That said, I sincerely hope the competition takes off. It’s fantastic that fringe players have some decent rugby during the Rugby Championship and leading up to the Spring Tour to push their claims from outside of the squad.

      As a Reds fan, I’m also glad they have gone for a city-country split. North and South Brisbane wouldn’t have worked (for lack of a stadium on the south side) and, for the majority, it makes it pretty clear who to go for from the outset. Hope it benefits QLD rugby.

      • Columnist

        July 8th 2014 @ 8:34am
        Brett McKay said | July 8th 2014 @ 8:34am | ! Report

        Redsback, I’ll cover off the new rules in Pt3 next week, but I know they had to be ratified by the IRB before they could be announced.

        Perth not going for nib Stadium makes perfect sense to me, ditto Canberra not using GIO Stadium: remember, the ARC averaged crowds around 2-3000 comp-wide, but that both Perth and Canberra had averages of 4000+. So straight off the bat, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use 20K and 25K seat stadia with a crowd of less than 20% capacity.

        But beyond that, it’s evident that Fox Sports is also minimising its own costs by only doing TV games in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, where they already have resources and crew and don’t need to truck everything in.

        So knowing that, it doesn’t make a lot sense hiring a stadium with broadcast-quality lighting when there isn’t going to be a broadcast.

        In the best case scenario, if the crowds and results mean that Perth and Canberra need the bigger stadia in season 2, then that’s great news!

        • July 8th 2014 @ 8:45pm
          Bakkies said | July 8th 2014 @ 8:45pm | ! Report

          Brett I hope those new ELVs were chucked out as the bulk of them were farcical.

          • July 8th 2014 @ 11:59pm
            In Brief said | July 8th 2014 @ 11:59pm | ! Report

            Bakkies, are you being willfully ignorant? The majority of the ELVs were adopted and are what you see every time you watch a game of rugby. The few that weren’t adopted were the more controversial ones such as hands in the ruck. far from being ‘farcical’ they worked bloody well and succeeded in taking the referee out of the equation while maintaining everything we love about rugby. Long live the ELVS!

      • July 8th 2014 @ 11:19am
        Crazy Horse said | July 8th 2014 @ 11:19am | ! Report

        There are some excellent club grounds in Perth, notably at The University of Western Australia Sports Park with it’s famous hill. All Senior Grand Finals including Premier Grade have been held there for several years and the atmosphere is excellent. The Force train on these grounds and it’s walking distance from Rugby WA Headquarters.

    • Roar Guru

      July 8th 2014 @ 6:31am
      Who Needs Melon said | July 8th 2014 @ 6:31am | ! Report

      Timing is important and I think the ARU have got it wrong. We had a gripping French tour, straight back into the Super rugby final rounds then the finals – and it looks like we will have a good number of Australian sides to keep our avid interest, then the much-anticipated SA, NZ and Arg games. Is this really the period when you would try to spark some interest in a completely new competition? And is next year going to be any better?

      I know the response to my negativity will be: What are you advocating then, WNM? Delaying it 3 years?!? Unfortunately I don’t have an answer or a solution. But this whole thing seems rushed to market and while I’m gripped by other rugby there is a little NRC voice piping up ‘me too’ in the background.

      • July 8th 2014 @ 7:26am
        hog said | July 8th 2014 @ 7:26am | ! Report

        Gripping French Tour!!!!

      • Columnist

        July 8th 2014 @ 8:15am
        Brett McKay said | July 8th 2014 @ 8:15am | ! Report

        Melon, the risk of trying to build publicity in the middle of the June Tests, or even now in the last rounds of Super Rugby is that it would just get lost. Given the choice between the SR run home or the launch of the NRC, but only room for one rugby story in their news bulletin, what do think most outlets would choose?

        I understand your point, certainly, but I do get the reasoning behind it.

        That said, should the Tahs make it through to the SR Final, I think that week before the final would be a good time to start the information flow. Even if the ARU Don’t launch until after the Final, start releasing team info, and ticketing details, and merch, etc…

      • Roar Guru

        July 8th 2014 @ 8:22am
        Eddard said | July 8th 2014 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        The Wallabies can only play one game a week. Most rugby fans in Australia will only watch that game and some may also watch the other Rugby Championship game.

        One of Australian rugby’s biggest problems is that it doesn’t produce enough content week in week out compared to the other codes, especially during the international season. Until now (except 2007) when super rugby has finished the non-Wallaby players have played the last few weeks of club rugby and then had an enormous off-season.

        In addition to the obvious player development benefits, the NRC will increase the amount of content that will, in time (hopefully), be significantly valuable to broadcasters. It will also give the ARU options going forward if super rugby was ever to disband.

      • Roar Guru

        July 8th 2014 @ 10:34am
        Epiquin said | July 8th 2014 @ 10:34am | ! Report

        I think it’s a bit weird that it has been designed as a pathway to Super Rugby but won’t get played until after Super Rugby concludes. It’s a bit anti climactic.
        “Now that you’ve enjoyed the cream of the crop, now be dazzled by the players that weren’t good enough for Super Rugby.”

        Not to mention that fact that it goes up the NRL and AFL finals for media coverage.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 8th 2014 @ 12:37pm
          Don said | July 8th 2014 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

          I’m actually looking forward to it because of the timing.

          I watch Premier Rugby in Brisbane most weekends. I love that the NRC starts after the Premier Rugby final and we get to see our local players teamed with some Reds S15 players running around in representative footy.

          As I have said on here before, we have some sensational talent in Premier Rugby that often never see their opportunity in S15 due to the Reds and other teams focusing on their young development players and on imports from other states. Earlier this year I commented that after watching the GPS centres play, they would both do well in S15. Well, Sam Kerevi started last week and tore the Force apart. There are others like him out there waiting for their chance…

          That is what the NRC is about to me. Watching our best local players get the chance to play others at a higher level and hopefully then get their chances at S15 level.

      • July 8th 2014 @ 12:47pm
        redbull said | July 8th 2014 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

        But I think your “me too” comment is the reason ARU have gone the way they have. There is no point advertising a new competition until the current one is completed. You would assume it would be sold as a local flavour on the test match period. Also like politics, people have very short memories and attention spans. Why spend money on advertising all year long. An intensive 6-7 week period prior to kick-off makes more economic sense

        • July 8th 2014 @ 8:48pm
          Bakkies said | July 8th 2014 @ 8:48pm | ! Report

          redbull yep. The marketing budget would be small time so social media is very important and it’s cheap to boot.

    • Roar Guru

      July 8th 2014 @ 6:36am
      Diggercane said | July 8th 2014 @ 6:36am | ! Report

      Well done Brett, good to get some understanding. and Go Spirit!

    • Roar Pro

      July 8th 2014 @ 6:43am
      Wasim Ranamadroota said | July 8th 2014 @ 6:43am | ! Report

      Thanks for the info. Look forward to part two, and more news on rosters.

      Hope it works!!

    • July 8th 2014 @ 7:33am
      hog said | July 8th 2014 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      Thanks for the info Brett, look forward to things kicking off. You last sentence mentioned the opening game.

      Surely they need to lock this in at least.give it time to attract a crowd, This is the catch 22, it needs to be self sustaining but also this will be everyone’s first impression, won’t look good with two men and & dog.there. So what price a decent crowd first up.???

      • Columnist

        July 8th 2014 @ 8:35am
        Brett McKay said | July 8th 2014 @ 8:35am | ! Report

        You mean the opening round, Hog?

        • July 8th 2014 @ 12:50pm
          hog said | July 8th 2014 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

          Sorry Brett, What i mean was the first up game, I presume this will be televised as it is on Thursday night 21st August before Rugby HQ.
          At least lock this game in. I just think that first impressions will mean a lot, a half decent crowd will at least give the comp some momentum.
          And presuming the first game is in Sydney, what about this for an idea, as the Waratahs are at minimum guaranteed a home semi. why not give the crowd at that game a ticket option for the first game, or first round.

          • July 8th 2014 @ 2:00pm
            Nicholas Wilson said | July 8th 2014 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

            the first game is brisbane city vs sydney stars in brisbane

          • Columnist

            July 8th 2014 @ 2:00pm
            Brett McKay said | July 8th 2014 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

            Ah right, now I follow. I think it’s all but locked in, Hog. As I mentioned, it was reported late last week in the Fairfax press that the ARU were getting ready for launch, and that Fox Sports will run an ITM Cup game into Brisbane City v Sydney Stars from Ballymore (as mentioned in the Bris City part above), and then into RugbyHQ which will slide back to 9:30..

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