Rugby needs to address the grassroots

Luke Jones Roar Rookie

By Luke Jones, Luke Jones is a Roar Rookie New author!

 , ,

62 Have your say

    Easts vs Randwick. Photo via

    Related coverage

    I’m a long-time Roar fan, first-time contributor, however this subject really needs to be addressed and posted to Bill Pulver’s Mosman address!

    The confirmation that one Super Rugby team will get cut from 2018 onwards is a great shame to the growth of the game in Australia. Even though I don’t agree with the decision, I fully understand that the results from both the Rebels and the Force just haven’t been satisfactory, and a tough decision needed to be made.

    However what I can’t understand is how the ARU can honestly give an answer into how Aussie rugby has reached this point that we can’t even sustain five teams?

    Currently the AFL have 18 teams, the NRL 16, A-League 10 – hell, even the NBL can sustain eight teams. The argument posed by some pundits is that rugby in Australia simply doesn’t have the players or resources to support five teams. This is true as shown in the results of Australian teams over the past couple of years in Super Rugby, and the Australian U20s having not reached a final since 2010.

    However what needs to be addressed is why Australian rugby cannot sustain five teams when every other sporting code in the country can support such a higher number of sides? The major issue that is preventing the code from growing in Australia and of its current position in the sporting landscape is the current and continuing demise of addressing the grassroots, across a local, state and national level.

    CEO of Australian Rugby Union Bill Pulver, and Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika

    The ARU is currently adhering to a top down sporting administration method, where it is providing the majority of funding and attention to the Super Rugby sides and the Wallabies to ensure that they achieve success.

    This strategy is due to the fact that Australia has an extremely competitive sporting market, and success is essential to achieving popularity and support across fans, sponsorship and stakeholders.

    Furthermore the ARU has a much smaller budget than that compared to the NRL and AFL and needs to be smart about distributing its budget. However this strategy can only work if the Super Rugby teams are successful. As shown over the past few seasons with a reduction in sponsorship money, attendances and the results of the super teams, a rapid alteration of the ARU expenditures need to be made.

    The ARU needs to look at why other codes in the country are more successful and are able to support many more teams. The main issue in my opinion is that rugby has basically ignored the grassroots throughout the country, with the strategy of hoping the local clubs can organise themselves while the ARU supports the state and national team.

    Rugby especially needs to open itself up to more of the market in offering it as a sporting option to school kids in public schools. The majority of kids in Australia attend public schools and this is an area of huge potential growth in the game, and it can eliminate the stigma that rugby is only played by rich private school kids.

    The Wallabies have a proud history of public school players including the Ella Brothers, Steve Price etc. and really need to increase participation levels by directing funding to developing a state and national schoolboy competition. This is one of the reasons for success of the All Blacks, as rugby is viewed as egalitarian in New Zealand as its offered to the whole country to players from all races, gender and socio-economic backgrounds, and its played at a very high standard in both public and private schools.

    Furthermore the ARU needs to make the radical decision of cutting the NRC, which does have its benefits and the aim to develop players from club to state level.

    However as shown in the attendances and TV viewers there is a much higher interest in local club rugby which has over 120 years of history and rivalry. Crowds at Manly home games constantly sell out and attract 8-10 thousand, and the atmosphere is much more intense than any NRC game across the country.

    Easts vs Randwick. Photo via

    A nationwide club rugby comp, like the NPC, with clubs from Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne should replace the NRC as it will serve two purposes. It will reduce the costs of funding separate provincial competitions around the country, and money can be re-directed to help fund the ailing Shute Shield and other national provincial clubs.

    Clubs in Sydney have been operating on a shoe string budget since the inception of professionalism, where Parramatta and Penrith have nearly been placed into receivership and Eastwood was forced to sell its own home ground in order to secure its financial future.

    By incorporating a bottom-up administration model, as used by the NRL and AFL, by taking care of the games grassroots providing higher funding at a local level, whether it be in junior rugby, across public schools, developing more country rugby clubs, providing more school clinics from Wallabies, increasing players development officers to Western Sydney, rugby can increase its player numbers and support to sustain five teams in Super Rugby.

    There are more than enough players in the Australian sporting market to sustain five teams, the ARU just needs to incorporate a new strategy to address these issues. If the grassroots are going to be continued to be ignored, and with the continual growth and expansion of rival codes, we could be back to the Super 12 in the near future.

    Do you find yourself logged out of The Roar?
    We have just switched over to a secure site (https). This means you will need to log-in afresh. If you need help with recovering your password, please get in contact.

    This video is trending right now! Submit your videos for the chance to win a share of $10,000!

    Have Your Say

    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (62)

    • Roar Guru

      April 18th 2017 @ 12:10pm
      Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

      First comment.

      The NPC isn’t a nation wide club competition.

      It’s a provincial competition closer to the NRC.

      I don’t understand how the NRL and AFL are a bottom up administration model. They focus on the professional arm of the game, which then leaves profits for the grassroots. Their funding at the lower level is based on their revenue at the top level.

      The ARU aren’t cutting teams because there are not enough players. They are doing so because there are not enough fans, and one less team is one less mouth to feed.

      Look at what the NBL And A-League pay players as to why they can afford more teams. I think we’d struggle for interest in a competition where our salary cap per team is $2M.

      Why other sports are successful is down to a huge number of factors. Swimming is the most participated sport in Australia and they do very little for “grassroots”. Likewise many amateur sports. Soccer has been the most popular participated over the 4 football codes for decades now. Again in the past they have hardly dumped millions into participation.

      Money can help. But it’s not the only factor.

      Rugby especially needs to open itself up to more of the market in offering it as a sporting option to school kids in public schools. The majority of kids in Australia attend public schools and this is an area of huge potential growth in the game, and it can eliminate the stigma that rugby is only played by rich private school kids.

      This is the one accurate and important comment you make. Absolutely right. This is what the AFL does. And it is now (as of only really 2016) what we do. This was the huge bone of contention for Papworth and Co with the strategic plan, where the focus was rolling out the game in schools like the AFL does, to try and interest players in the club game.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 18th 2017 @ 12:28pm
        piru said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

        nailed it

      • April 18th 2017 @ 7:34pm
        Tim said | April 18th 2017 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

        Hi Train. As a rugby player, referee and administrator who has moved into AFL territory because of work commitments, I can tell you the AFL definitely has a build ‘from the base’ or pyramid model. I have seen regular visits from AFL players and superstars in our small towns and working with students from schools I work in. NAB Auskick programs where kids get heaps of products at little cost. Local players here in the Riverina who went to public schools here and now play for the Giants and Swans via an extraordinary academy system that quite frankly leaves Rugby for dead. This saddens me greatly, I believe there are lots of true rugby people who know what needs to be done to fix our game, but while ever we have this closed board system which we can never enter, I believe our game will struggle to survive.

        • April 18th 2017 @ 9:57pm
          Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 9:57pm | ! Report

          That’s not building from the base. That’s community engagement.

          I don’t doubt the code with 18 teams does better than the one with 5.

          I don’t know what region you were in but Rugby does many of these things.

          AFL certainly does better, but money will do that.

          You ignore the cost of all this. I highly doubt the ARU lacks interest. They lack the funds. Though shouldn’t the state unions be doing this?

          • April 19th 2017 @ 12:55pm
            mania said | April 19th 2017 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

            train – community engagement is the grassroots. one cant exist without the other.
            grassroots in nz involves thousands of volunteers. the players are just a small part of it. its the volunteers that are secret of nz rugby success.

            nz is small enough that we run rugby like a family.

            • Roar Guru

              April 19th 2017 @ 1:38pm
              Train Without A Station said | April 19th 2017 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

              I didn’t say it wasn’t.

              I said it’s not building from the base.

              All sports do community engagement. Not surprisingly, in Australia, the sports with the most teams and the most money do the most.

              Also they all focus on funding their professional arms, as this protects revenue.

              They then funnel their profits into grassroots.

              This is top down.

              The lack of genuine competition is a not so secret part of NZ success. There’s other sports but none have ever been established.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2017 @ 1:51pm
        Fionn said | April 20th 2017 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

        TWAS, am I misinterpreting you or do you mean that Papworth and co didn’t want the ARU investing in public schools??? I am seriously hoping that I am misinterpreting you and this was not the case!

        • Roar Guru

          April 20th 2017 @ 2:02pm
          Train Without A Station said | April 20th 2017 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

          Nope that’s exactly what I am saying.

          His criticism is that the ARU is looking to invest in it’s own program in schools, rather than funding clubs to do as they see fit.

          • Roar Guru

            April 20th 2017 @ 2:57pm
            Fionn said | April 20th 2017 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

            Wow. That’s shocking. Cheers for that info.

            I’m at a loss to why anyone listens to a thing that Papworth and Co say if that is the type of rubbish they are putting out.

    • April 18th 2017 @ 12:29pm
      bigbaz said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

      I guess you need to clarify what is grassroots. It seems to me you are indicating Shute shield and Hospital cup comps as grassroots whereas I reckon schoolboys, subbies, and country sides all over Australia are were we really have to grow the game. If some Sydney sides are getting 8 to 10,000 people to games the only help they need is accounting.

      • April 18th 2017 @ 12:38pm
        Hello said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

        Agree bigbaz.
        I see Kids as grass roots following through to subbies/country rugby. This is where the base is.
        Not Shute Shield and Hospital Cup

        • April 18th 2017 @ 12:44pm
          concerned supporter said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

          What happens to kids when they leave school? Do they go straight to the Waratahs, Reds?

          No, 99% go and play colts with District Clubs.

          Schools, Junior & District Clubs are all grassroots.

          • Roar Rookie

            April 18th 2017 @ 12:47pm
            piru said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

            only if they’ve been playing rugby up to that point.

            I’d say an 18 year old with 4 or 5 years of rugby under his belt is much more likely to stay in the game than a 6 – 10 year old being bombarded with options

          • Roar Guru

            April 18th 2017 @ 12:47pm
            Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report


            If there’s no kids coming through there’s going to be nobody go to colts.

            Kids don’t even have anything to do with a district club until they’re already playing rugby.

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2017 @ 12:43pm
        Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

        Yep Baz.

        As far as I’m concerned Subbies and Under 6s is grassroots.

        • April 18th 2017 @ 12:51pm
          concerned supporter said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

          Did you forget to properly read your posting?

          Subbies is Senior Rugby on a more social basis,training maybe one night a week if that.

          Did you also forget Junior Under 7,s to Under 18″s?

          • Roar Guru

            April 18th 2017 @ 12:55pm
            Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:55pm | ! Report


            I’m just not labeling every single part.

            Grassroots is kids and casuals. These are where new supporters come from.

            • April 18th 2017 @ 1:10pm
              bigbaz said | April 18th 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

              And this is were ambition comes from. From a purely selfish point of view I hope to see the day when a country player can be picked from his local club into the NRC, into a super side and finally the Wallabies.
              Obviously times have well and truly changed but there once was a time when you could basically do that.

              • Roar Guru

                April 18th 2017 @ 1:20pm
                Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

                I just don’t see it as feasible.

                It’s a risk because he’s not playing against any quality opposition.

                It’s less of a risk for a prems player because you seem him playing at a higher level.

                When you consider that Prems teams would beat NSW and QLD Country teams (that don’t include prems players – a huge bug bear of mine!!!) what does that say of the opposition the country players are playing against?

              • Roar Guru

                April 18th 2017 @ 5:17pm
                sheek said | April 18th 2017 @ 5:17pm | ! Report


                i agree with TWAS here.

                The days when a country player could progress from say Moree, or Wagga Wagga, or Coffs Harbour to NSW Country, then Wallabies, is gone.

                Greg Cornelsen could play for the Wallabies living near Armidale; John Hipwell could play for the Wallabies living in Newcastle & Geoff Shaw could play for the Wallabies living on the outskirts of Wollongong at Kiama.

                Those days are gone.

                There’s only five ways you can make the Wallabies these days – via Waratahs, Reds, Brumbies, Force or Rebels. Or from overseas via the 60/7 rule.

                Soon, if you believe the pundits, there will be only four ways to get Wallaby section, then who knows, maybe only three…..

          • April 20th 2017 @ 1:52pm
            Rhys said | April 20th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

            Obviously don’t get down to see Subbies rugby much mate, would agree it’s less serious than shute shield, but its fair to say that most higher grades at subbies clubs are training 2 nights a week, with those players also keeping themselves fit on the side.

            And if you still think its not serious to those guys, maybe step out there at 3:15 on a Saturday afternoon and find out…

      • April 18th 2017 @ 1:52pm
        Bill said | April 18th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

        BigBaz I always wondered what happened to the crowd counters from the ARL/ Super league days

    • April 18th 2017 @ 1:58pm
      bigbaz said | April 18th 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

      I can only pose the question cause I don’t know the answer, but how can we access the 100s of young league players who are basically warehoused by the NRL, who are never going to make it in the big league and seemingly disappear forever. Surely there must be disapointed young leagueys we can attract to the good side.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 18th 2017 @ 2:05pm
        piru said | April 18th 2017 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

        Yeah come over to rugby kids, maybe play a few years at a Super franchise before it’s cut from the competition and you’re on your own again.

        • April 18th 2017 @ 8:12pm
          Rebellion said | April 18th 2017 @ 8:12pm | ! Report

          “Come over to rugby kids – we have 3 teams producing world class rugby and playing finals football most seasons with the occasional Championship. Maybe you’ll be part of one of the fluid combinations who pick themselves for a Wallabies team who are an international force due to a lift in domestic standards”


          “Come and join one of 5 thinly spread teams who get their backsides handed to them most weekends. If you really fall off the cliff, you’ll end up with the deadbeats at Subiaco who couldn’t qualify for the finals if they were the only team in the comp”

      • April 18th 2017 @ 4:39pm
        Casual fan said | April 18th 2017 @ 4:39pm | ! Report

        Great point.
        It really annoyed me when Pulvers said “we don’t have the players”. We do have the players it’s just that we want to give all our money the the top end players.
        We need to trim our budgets to get great coaches and affordable players.
        If we lose a few players so be it.

    • April 18th 2017 @ 2:28pm
      Dontcallmeshirley said | April 18th 2017 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

      The reality is that Australia produces more than enough talent to support five teams, however too much of the talent leaves for the Northern Hemisphere.

      • April 18th 2017 @ 10:10pm
        James P said | April 18th 2017 @ 10:10pm | ! Report

        And this is the fundamental issue that we have. It isn’t the move to 5 teams, it is the huge number of players moving overseas. This didn’t happen in the past.

        The second issue that needs to be dealt with (no matter what happens with the teams) is better equalisation of talent. Having the Waratahs with a salary cap 50% higher than that of the Force and Rebels is crazy. If that is going to continue, then we might as well move down to 3 teams straight away. The fact that the “underperforming” Rebels can get within 1 win of the Waratahs in 2016 on a significantly lower spend shows how well the Rebels performed last year.

        • April 20th 2017 @ 1:42pm
          Browny said | April 20th 2017 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

          All teams should have exactly the same salary cap and ARU top ups should be included in that. Super Rugby has no true equalisation methods for the teams. The AFL use the salary cap and the draft to spread the current talent on market value and distribute the young talent where it’s needed most (granted that’s been a little skew-whiff the last few years with a major component of the draft heading to the expansion clubs, but for the most part it holds true).

          • Roar Guru

            April 20th 2017 @ 1:48pm
            Train Without A Station said | April 20th 2017 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

            Yeah but that ignores the reason for the Wallaby top ups – to benefit the Wallabies.

            Rugby is in a unique situation (similar to cricket except stronger domestic game) where there are domestic team and national team interests that are almost just as important, both having their own season in its own right.

            The purpose of the Wallaby top up is to ensure the players wanted for the Wallabies are kept, but not binding them to any particular team in Australia.

            Forcing players to play in cities they have no interest in may just encourage them to leave.

            Imagine if we said, no Wallaby top ups, every team just gets $2M more.

            Then because a good THP prop isn’t necessary to win Super Rugby but good halves are, all 5 franchises spend $1M of that extra $2M on their 9 and 10.

            That would mean half of the Wallaby top up money would be tied up in 10 players (2 at each franchise), only 2 of whom will start, and only 6 max of which will even make a 30 man squad.

            With limited funds, not at all the best use of them.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 20th 2017 @ 2:01pm
          Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

          You cannot compare the past with now on equal footings. The pull factors are different now as there is much more money on offer in the foreign markets.

          Also, I’d be interested to see a comparison of the volume of players leaving now as a percentage of the volume of professional players staying. We have 5 teams developing and showcasing talent. I’d be surprised if the percentage of players leaving now is much different than before.

          We have players, even with the exodus. What we do not have is quality coaching at the 5 franchises. Who out of the current coaches comes close to Rod McQueen, Eddie Jones, Ewan McKenzie, Jack White or Michael Cheika?

          We have always had at least 1 quality coach at one of the franchises that’s had them at the pointy end of the competition. This coaching group is probably our least experienced ever across the board.

    • April 18th 2017 @ 4:22pm
      waxhead said | April 18th 2017 @ 4:22pm | ! Report

      yeah yeah Luke
      all astute rugby fans have been saying same over and over for past 10 yrs.

      How about being constructive and putting some detail around the bleeding obvious.
      Like details of exactly how a new grassroots bottom up strategy should work 🙂

    • April 18th 2017 @ 6:19pm
      English twizz said | April 18th 2017 @ 6:19pm | ! Report

      The RFU in England is taking rugby into 750 high schools by 2019 by doing it in clusters so the schools can grow the game together and have schools at the same level in the local area

      • April 18th 2017 @ 6:27pm
        Daws said | April 18th 2017 @ 6:27pm | ! Report

        That sounds like a pretty good plan

      • April 18th 2017 @ 7:00pm
        davSA said | April 18th 2017 @ 7:00pm | ! Report

        It sounds like they actually have a plan … cant fault them for that.

    , ,