If new NRL franchises are coming through the second tier, how should it look?

Steve Mascord Columnist

By Steve Mascord, Steve Mascord is a Roar Expert

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    Well, what to talk about this week? There’re plenty of candidates: whether rugby league is s**t, how good it is that the Denver Test is still on, the woes of Parramatta and North Queensland, the fantastic season of the Illawarra Steelers.

    But I’m going to overlook all that obvious stuff and take you back a month or so, when new ARLC chairman Peter Beattie (lover of the Barcelona Knights) said that expansion was back on the table.

    Beattie also commented that performances in the State Leagues would now help franchises prove they were ready for the big time.

    I like it – promotion without relegation.

    But are the lower tiers of competition in Australia set up in a way that can encourage the likes of Perth or a second Brisbane team or Wellington or whoever to firstly, invest, and secondly plan for a future in the NRL?

    The answer, I believe, is a resounding ‘no’.

    The new women’s league is an indication that the NRL is capable of thinking strategically and showing some strength when it comes to forgetting the accidental history of the game and doing what is right for the long-term.

    Parramatta Eels versus Penrith Panthers women's rugby league NRL rugby league SG Ball Image: Sean Teuma

    (Image: Sean Teuma)

    They didn’t want too many teams in Sydney – and nor should they. As my colleague Paul Kent is wont to say: ‘if you started the premiership from scratch today, it would look nothing like what we’ve been left with’.

    Surely, then, if League Central can show some balls (not sure whether that’s the right term) with the women’s NRL, it can start applying some vision to the second tier, too.

    I’ll say this again: I don’t think the NSW and Queensland Rugby Leagues should exist. NRL Victoria just did a deal with their State government which really means the NRL did a deal.

    The same should apply in NSW and Queensland. Give Brad Fittler and Kevvy Walters performance units to run their teams but we don’t need all that infrastructure and duplication.

    The QRL – particularly, since there’s no CRL north of the border – and NSW Rugby League each do lots of good things but it could be done in the name of the NRL just as well. They exist primarily for political and historic reasons.

    Don’t talk to me about travel costs as a justification for the Intrust Super Cup and Intrust Super Premiership being separate competitions. One has a team in Auckland, the other has one in Port Moresby.

    If the Hunters and Warriors switched comps, no-one would bat an eyelid.

    The border and identities of the two competitions are completely arbitrary – semi-pro and amateur teams in many sports can now afford to travel nationally and internationally, as Toulouse and Toronto playing in a comp watched by three-figure crowds illustrates.

    A second tier NRL could generate the sort of money the NBL does – and they manage to pay for the hotels and flights OK (most of the time).

    Anyway, here are two places where our sport is missing out on money: consortia who want to enter the NRL and keep being turned away and from the IP of storied trademarks like Balmain Tigers, North Sydney Bears, etc.

    Newtown Jets

    (Photo: Kris Swales)

    Make the teams who want into the NRL jump through hoops that generate revenue as they do the jumping – look at Toronto having to work their way up to Super League from third division. And make them earn that revenue against teams that also tap into the public’s sense of nostalgia.

    An effective second tier would be aimed at fans, not at existing NRL club coaches trying to bring back injured players or suburban leagues clubs with some spare money.

    It would exclusively be made up of teams representing areas not serviced by the NRL, teams with an historically significant brand, and teams preparing to enter the NRL. It would be an attractive property in its own right, not completely subjugated to feeder status.

    I started by going through all the current teams in each State League and listing who should be in and out – but it got too complicated so I went back and deleted what I’d written.

    Sydney is a crowded market so where would a revived Balmain or Western Suburbs play? Surely you can’t make Newtown leave Henson Park or North Sydney come back but avoid North Sydney Oval?

    Likewise, Wynnum Manly, Redcliffe and the other Brisbane clubs have enormous cultural cache which should be respected. It’s not an easy balancing act.

    The fact is, it’s a bridge we probably shouldn’t have to cross because we won’t get our wish-list. We won’t get every single dead club and every single regional city lining up to play in our imaginary competition.

    But a millionaire-backed Wellington Orcas playing the Bears at North Sydney Oval on a sunny Sunday afternoon when there’s no NRL in Sydney?

    That’s the utopia I’m talking about.

    Steve Mascord
    Steve Mascord

    Steve Mascord has covered rugby league in 15 countries and worked for most media organisations that regularly feature the sport, on both sides of the globe. He started off as an 18-year-old cadet at Australian Associated Press, transferring to the Sydney Morning Herald just in time to go on the last full Kangaroos Tour in 1994. He spent three years at Sydney's Daily Telegraph from 2006 before going freelance at the conclusion of the 2008 World Cup. Steve is the author of the book Touchstones, host of the White Line Fever podcast, partner in international rugby league merchandise start-up Mascord Brownz, and proprietor of rugbyleaguehub.com, hardrockhub.com and hotmetalonline.com. He is married to Sarah and splits his time between London and Sydney.

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    The Crowd Says (28)

    • April 17th 2018 @ 7:33am
      Christov said | April 17th 2018 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      I really like the idea of conferences and a super bowl. Let’s do that

    • April 17th 2018 @ 8:05am
      Gavin Large said | April 17th 2018 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      Let’s get some relegation happening. There’s nothing more exciting than the battles for promotion and relegation in the UK football and R.L.

      • April 17th 2018 @ 12:56pm
        Sam said | April 17th 2018 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

        Agree.ATM,in both NRL and AFL,teams that can’t make playoffs are not under any pressure to perform,simply because their teams are assured of playing in the top competition every year.But if you were to have promo/relegation,you will see teams at the bottom of the table playing out of their skin for survival in the top tier

    • Roar Rookie

      April 17th 2018 @ 8:23am
      BA Sports said | April 17th 2018 @ 8:23am | ! Report

      It would exclusively be made up of teams representing areas not serviced by the NRL, teams with an historically significant brand

      I must admit that seems a bit contradicting. The Newtown Jets have too play out of Newtown, they can’t play out of Central QLD or Western Australia.

      Side note re; Peter Beattie: Best wag comment I head on radio this warning was that Peter Beattie is considering Lionel Messi to be the next immortal inducted into the NRL HOF

      • April 17th 2018 @ 3:31pm
        Sammy said | April 17th 2018 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

        “It would exclusively be made up of teams representing areas NOT serviced by the NRL”.

        Basically the State League Clubs need their own territory, separate from the over-shadowing NRL Clubs. For example, the following NRL-State League partnerships would satisfy this requirement:

        * Newcastle -> Hunter Valley, New England & North Coast

        * Canberra -> Murrumbidgee & Far South Coast NSW

        * Penrith -> Central West NSW & Blue Mountains

        * Wests Tigers -> Campbelltown & Southern Highlands

        * St George Illawarra -> Illawarra & Shoalhaven

        * Sydney Roosters -> Central Coast

        * Cronulla Sharks -> Perth or Adelaide

        But atleast 4 Sydney districts would have both an NRL and NSWRL Club:

        * Inner City: Souths Rabbitohs + Newtown Jets

        * Northern Sydney: Manly Sea Eagles + North Sydney Bears

        * Cumberland: Parramatta Eels + Wentworthville Magpies

        * Southern Sydney: Canterbury Bulldogs + Mounties

    • April 17th 2018 @ 9:02am
      Scott said | April 17th 2018 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Good idea Steve. One 2nd tier comp that encompasses Perth, Nsw country, Sydney, Brisbane, Qld country, PNG, NZ, Vic. A team can not be placed in Perth in the next 5 years with the lack of 2nd tier and development structures for longevity.

    • April 17th 2018 @ 9:35am
      steggz said | April 17th 2018 @ 9:35am | ! Report

      Part of what helps the second tier at the moment is those fringe first grade players who drop down to NSW/QLD Cup. Take the top 6-10 players out of those sides (as the NRL clubs would still need a squad, and it could be even more than that) and is the second division as enticing?

    • Roar Guru

      April 17th 2018 @ 11:30am
      Matt H said | April 17th 2018 @ 11:30am | ! Report

      I believe there is a still a role for the ARL, QRL and NSWRL. Their remit is all of rugby league. The NRL is concerned about one thing and one thing only – the NRL.

      I think the QRL have done an excellent job with the Intrust Super Cup. It is a genuine state league. They have teams from Port Moresby, Carins, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast, Redcliffe (it’s a city in its own right), Ipswich (same as Redcliffe, not part of Brisbane), Logan, Burleigh and the Tweed. That is excellent coverage of the state. Then add Norths, Easts, Wynnum and you have Brisbane pretty locked up as well. The only significant region in the state not represented is Toowoomba and the Downs. In Brisbane the region least represented is around Red Hill where the Broncos are based. The Intrust Cup even has two teams with the same mascot! I don’t see how cutting any of these teams out of a new proposed second tier competition grow the game in QLD at all.

      And it’s a good competition in it’s own right, apart from it’s breeding ground for the NRL.

      I would be happy for some sort of conference finals after the QRL comp is over (currently they just have a ‘superbowl’ between the winners, but you could expand it to four teams).

      • April 17th 2018 @ 12:04pm
        Callum said | April 17th 2018 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

        The reason that area(inner Western Brisbane) is not represented is because the Broncos have either bought up their infrastructure of Wests Juniors and also commercially squeezed out Wests Panthers forcing them to the BRL.

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