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Yes, you read that right: the Warriors should be kicked out of the NRL.
It’s a bold statement, I know, but hear me out and don’t scroll down to the comments section just yet.
If there’s one thing consistent about the Warriors, it is poor results. In 20 years of the National Rugby League they have qualified for the finals seven times, their last appearance in 2011. This is, however, a team in a rugby league heartland of four million people.
Admittedly there have been some great moments, namely the 2002 minor premiership, 2008 finals victory over the first-placed Storm from eighth on the ladder, the 2011 grand final from sixth position and of course all those scintillating plays and talented juniors.
But rugby league in New Zealand is suffering as a result of the Warriors, with very few pathways for young rugby league players. We have seen in the most recent World Cup the Kiwis struggle, dropping out in the quarter-finals at the hands of Fiji and failing to impress anyone.
What New Zealand rugby league needs more than a token team in the NRL is a strong national competition that will help to foster the development of young New Zealanders across the country.
So it is time the Warriors leave the NRL in order to make way for a national New Zealand rugby league competition.
Of course if this were to happen, there is no way that the competition would rival the NRL, at least not in its early years. It would be similar to the Super League or Intrust Super Cup in terms of quality.
Let’s first sort out the fundamentals.
How many teams? Six teams seems to be the optimal amount to start with. Clubs covering Wellington, Taranaki, Waikato and Canterbury as well as an Auckland team – or possibly two – and a Fijian outfit. There would be the opportunity to expand beyond this in the coming years, possibly to incorporate further Auckland teams, Southland, Papua New Guinea or even Northland.
So with six teams how long would the season run for? The optimal length here would likely be 15 or 20 rounds with a top three finals series. The season could run from April to August.
Six teams would give a pretty even spread of talent. The salary cap would have to be relatively low in contrast to the NRL, most likely around $2 million to $4 million depending on the size of broadcast rights deals and sponsorships.
Similar to how the Super League is in relation to the England national team, the big stars – think Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Shaun Johnson – would probably continue to play in the NRL while players like Simon Mannering (think Sean O’Loughlin), Ken Maumalo and others may find themselves in the New Zealand competition.
A new league could also be a happy hunting ground for ageing players from the NRL wishing to continue playing but not able to travel halfway across the world to England.
As this will be a professional rugby league competition, a change to the World Club Challenge will take place. Instead of playing NRL versus Super League, the champion league (for example, the NRL) would automatically seed, leaving the winners of the other two competitions to fight it out for the second spot. Obviously if there is enough space in the calendar, it would be possible to squeeze in a tri-series, but for the time being this seems to be the best option.
Now for the fun bit. You didn’t seriously think I would fail to mention international rugby league, did you?
As the NZRL competition would finish in August, a four-week Pacific Challenge series would take place in New Zealand. Players for New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Cook Islands would be taken from the NZRL or alternatively from teams no longer competing in other parts of the world – so if the Newcastle Knights were to again finish at the bottom of the ladder, for example, it would mean that the Saifiti brothers would be available to represent Fiji.
Following a four-week Pacific Challenge and the conclusion of the NRL grand final, Australia and New Zealand butt heads in a two-leg Anzac Test before breaking up for tours at the end of the year.
How does this impact the NRL?
Obviously the Warriors going makes for 15 franchises. The NRL could stick with this and have one team taking a bye each week or alternatively use the opportunity to expand.
It could mean that one of Perth, Papua New Guinea or a second Brisbane team finally joins the NRL.
As long as the Warriors are in the NRL, rugby league is going to suffer.