With discussions about expansion and “adult conversations”, this is my two cents.
It’s a thought that’s bugged me for many years.
There is endless accountability in rugby league.
You need to be accountable on your try line, players’ statistics recorded in forensic detail to keep them accountable, coaches are accountable for results.
But where is the accountability for wins and losses with clubs?
If you ‘win’ the wooden spoon, why should you collect the same amount of money as the 15 other clubs to pay your salary cap and run around next year?
There is a clear distinction between the haves and the have-nots in the NRL.
Despite the salary cap and efforts to level the playing field, there are certain clubs always there or thereabouts.
If you are a team consistently vying for 10th spot, how fulfilled are you really?
Look at the round-ball game. Relegation is a system used in the highest tiers of soccer overseas, and is used in second-tier leagues in Australia, as well as league in the UK (including clubs in France and Canada).
It is a system that could bring accountability to rugby league in Australia.
All of the recent hand-wringing about who drops down and how they drop, you can make the decision in a range of ways.
Selection criteria include quality of grounds, financial status, membership numbers and development systems.
You can come up with any number, but we all know who the big dogs are.
You could just say, “Righto lads, end of this season, the first X number of teams on the ladder play in the major league next year, go hard.”
Whether it’s based on results, facilities or connections, a top-tier league – and don’t call it the National Rugby League, it features teams from more than just Australia – with 12 teams, followed by two lower-tier conferences of 12 teams each.
This could leave you with the following in the highest echelon. Everyone plays each other twice. Twenty-two games. Top six. Happy days.
Brisbane Broncos, Melbourne Storm, Sydney Roosters, North Queensland Cowboys, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Cronulla Sharks, Penrith Panthers, New Zealand Warriors, St George Illawarra Dragons, Newcastle Knights, Canberra Raiders and Parramatta Eels.
The Northern Conference is a mix of established and emerging clubs.
In some ways this could redress the slight towards the Brisbane competition that was the Broncos entering in 1988.
Titans drop down. There’s a strong representation up the Eastern seaboard. Good as gold.
Gold Coast Titans, Souths Logan Magpies, East Brisbane Tigers, Mackay, Cairns, Rockhampton, Burleigh Bears, Papua New Guinea Hunters, Sunshine Coast, Redcliffe Dolphins, Ipswich Jets and Wynnum Manly Seagulls.
The Southern Conference is where under-performing Sydney teams get treated as under-performing Sydney teams – go play in your own comp.
A mix of the old and the new. Get a Perth, Fijian and second New Zealand team in. Rack up the frequent flyer points.
North Sydney, Fiji, Newtown Jets, Tweed Seagulls, Wests Tigers, Canterbury Bulldogs, Manly Sea Eagles, Perth, Second New Zealand, Central Coast, Wentworthville Magpies and Mounties.
Now some of these teams may not want to compete on these terms.
Many subsist now as feeder teams for NRL clubs. But this is where the catch is – again taking a soccer cue.
Each of the 36 sides has a reserves and an under-20s. And they all play together on game day!
If you have under-utilised players that want to stretch themselves, loan them out to a lower-tier side and watch the magic happen.
Doggies fans, would you rather get flogged this season, or have a hope of competing at your actual level?
How would promotion and relegation work?
The grand final winner from each conference goes up to the big time. The bottom two drop out. No relegation from the second tiers.
You’d have to work out which club goes to which conference, but split along geographic lines. If you have two from the same side of the border, flip a coin.
This system addresses several issues with the current system: teams don’t play each other the same number of times, teams out of finals contention have nothing to play for, club under-performance is not managed, and the Sydney-centric grouping of clubs.
I would strongly recommend against the perpetual licensing of clubs. Bad, bad idea.
This could present a chance for more regional teams to have a crack.
A Perth side could build up in the second tier, get going and then get in the top competition based on performance.
It does reduce the total number of games, opening windows for representative games.
This system would require change, but wouldn’t it be a fun ride?