Peter Sterling discusses the big issues ahead of the 2018 NRL season (Part 5)

Riley Pettigrew Roar Guru

By Riley Pettigrew, Riley Pettigrew is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    The NRL pre-season is here and we are now just under a month away from the regular season.

    As Round 1 draws near, four-time premiership winner Peter Sterling sat down to discuss the big issues ahead of the upcoming footy season.

    Here is what Sterlo had to say on some of the hot topics including international rugby league, expansion and State of Origin.

    We have heard proposals for New Zealand and England to play in Denver with the 2025 World Cup in North America. Do you think it’s fair that clubs are attempting to block mid-season Tests when we have something like State of Origin where players are also being taken away?
    It’s a two-edged sword for clubs. They want their players to represent but obviously they understand the impact that it has on their chances of winning competitions. I think decisions like that would be good for the game, clubs really have to wear it.

    I think they should get more compensation if they lose players through injury at representative level so they can bring another player into the squad or there’s some salary cap release of pressure. I think that’s an area that should be addressed.

    Mitchell Moses Parramatta Eels NRL Rugby League 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Clubs want their players to represent but they don’t want their premiership campaign to be derailed by that happening, so I think clubs need to get compensated better in regards to injury and players time away.

    Again, I think there’s a balance that could be made there where both sides would be happy with the situation more than the clubs feeling as though they’re copping it all the time.

    There is an argument that if we can get 1 per cent of the American audience to support rugby league, that’s a lot of people. I went over there in 1987 and not a whole lot came out of that. I appreciate the Toronto Wolfpack, that’s some bold thinking.

    We’ve had a little bit of talk about Wigan looking to get a Perth team in the competition over there now that there’s a direct flight. So there’s a lot of things happening and obviously the clubs will have to get on board but they’ll feel better about it if there is an understanding there that if through injury they lose a player for an extended period that it’s not just ‘well bad luck’, there’s got to be more coming back to them than just well you’ve got to put up with it, you didn’t have a choice in sending them and now you don’t have a choice in how it’s dealt with.

    You mentioned the possibility of a Perth team in the Super League, the RFL expanding to Toronto which really came out of necessity with small town teams unsustainable in the long-run as opposed to a market like New York or Toulouse. Do you think that the NRL will fall behind if they continue to avoid expansion?
    I am for expansion, but it’s an easy word to throw around.

    When you are considering expansion it’s not what a possible franchise can put on the table for a season coming up, the season after that. It’s what you know they offer in ten years time, fifteen years time.

    I still don’t think that we gave the Perth Reds and Adelaide Rams enough support at that time. I use the Sydney Swans as the example there where South Melbourne came up as the Swans, and I think they might have gone broke three times in their first twenty years of existence but the hierarchy of the VFL back then believed enough in that decision and in their product that they stuck with them and now they are part of our sporting landscape, and GWS may well be going along those same lines.

    I don’t think we showed the same support back then and if we do go back we’ve got to get it right. We can’t put another side in Perth and it goes belly-up because that would be it.

    I’m for expansion, I’ve no doubt there should be a second Brisbane team – create competition. But it is all about longevity, that whatever franchise or franchises come in that the business model shows us that they are in ten years time, they’re going to be in good shape. That’s not easy and there are a lot of considerations.

    I think there are some obvious areas that fit into the mould. I thought some of the things Peter Beattie put forward recently were interesting, I’m not quite sure whether some of the proposals he put forward would actually work but I think with expansion it’s got to be slowly, slowly.

    We’ve got to err on the side of caution and then after doing all of the due diligence, we say okay let’s go and then we go we don’t want clubs to struggle financially and we don’t want the NRL propping up clubs as they’ve had to do – they’ve got to stand on their own two feet.

    So expansion as I say, it’s an easy word to throw around, I believe in it, but I believe more in the process of getting to the right decision in the right area with the right setup and the right people, and that could take time. So it’s a little bit like Nathan Brown at Newcastle putting together what he’s done up there, I think it’s the same kind of thought process in we don’t rush in, we don’t spend money, by making it happen and then five years down the track we get in trouble.

    Konrad Hurrell scores in front of a ground record crowd during the Round 17 NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the New Zealand Warriors at NIB Stadium in Perth

    (AAP/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan)

    The Gold Coast is still proving to be somewhat of a difficult proposition up there and so many sports whether its baseball or basketball all fell by the wayside. I still like to think that it is going to be sustainable for a long, long time. They’re a bit of a litmus test in terms of what difficulties an expansion franchise can have.

    Finally, we’ll wrap up with a bit of New South Wales Blues Origin selection. Will we see a new halves pairing?
    I think the beauty for Brad Fittler, who will do a very, very good job, is that he has the core of a really strong New South Wales Origin line-up for a number of years to come. Some players there now who are undoubtedly long-term Blues – I’m talking Tyson Frizell, the Trbojevic brothers, Boyd Cordner, Wade Graham, Jack Bird. These kind of players are going to be wonderful players. So when it comes to the halves there are a couple of key areas that will be important to get right as well.

    Mitchell Pearce was the best halfback in New South Wales last year, I’ve got no doubt and he played a style of game that, we were keen last year and much of our focus was about playing through Queensland and not playing around them. If you try and play around them they’re too good. Because they do it better than anybody else, they defend it better than anybody else.

    Mitchell Pearce is the kind of player who is brave, goes to the line, will run tough holes, so he’s the type of player I still think New South Wales needs. But now, the record is starting to say that he’s been there a lot and hasn’t had a lot of success.

    The obvious name coming up is Nathan Cleary. Worse thing you can do is do him the disservice by putting him in too early like Jarrod Mullen. In a lot of ways I probably agree with some of the comments I’ve heard in regards to Nathan Cleary as to it will be very important as to who is around him that will determine whether he should be there or not. James Maloney and Nathan Cleary will build up a real good understanding.

    That will be a big plus towards it, the dummy-half will be important and the No.9 is another key area. We went with Nathan Peats last year and I thought he had a really good Origin series but probably wasn’t a concern defensively enough but a good, tough kid and his first Origin game was fantastic. I think Brad Fittler will probably look for more out of dummy-half so that Queensland have a little bit more to be concerned about, who that will be I don’t know.

    Nathan Peats for the Gold Coast Titans

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    I’m keen to sit back and just sort of see how the season unfolds, I’m a big fan of Matt Moylan. I think Matt Moylan is a special player but he’s got to be in good form and his headspace has got to be right but I can see him playing in the halves somewhere. I actually thought he would be there last year. When I sat down and named a team at the beginning of last season, Matt Moylan was certainly there.

    So I have no doubt that New South Wales will win the series this year and I know that we were three minutes away from winning it last year and that the team will have learnt and be better for that experience. I’m disappointed that a couple of Queensland players won’t be there because we want to beat them at their best. We don’t want to win the series for people to say but oh yeah JT wasn’t there or Billy wasn’t there, but we have no control over that.

    I just think that the nucleus of the NSW side is really good, the pathways that Laurie developed is really coming to the fore. The likes of McLean, Campbell-Gillard and these guys, Dale Finucane, we have a wealth of backrow talent, Jack de Belin. There are a lot of players on the horizon.

    The halves I think we’ll know more about that once we are a third of the way into the season, and the No.9 is key as well in relation to selection of the halves. So I think Brad Fittler steps into a really good position, now we just sit back and from the opening round there’s going to be a lot of conjecture as to who, there’ll be a lot of opinion which is fantastic, some of it will be spot-on, some of it will be misguided but that’s the beauty of Origin, we all have an opinion on it.

    Mitchell Pearce NSW Blues State of Origin NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    But don’t rule Mitchell Pearce out, Brad Fittler has said that everybody has a clean slate and Mitchell Pearce deserved to be there last year and he may well deserve to be there this year unless somebody else really puts their hand up and says that they’re ready to go. Nathan Cleary in a lot of people’s minds might be that guy, it might be one year too early. We’ll know more.

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