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The Roar


Michael Cheika calls for Super Rugby overhaul

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Michael Cheika says he pushed hard for a Super Rugby overhaul during his reign as Wallabies coach but won few friends at Rugby Australia for doing so.

Long before the coronavirus pandemic strangled the sport, Cheika said he questioned the game’s bosses over their ongoing acceptance of “easy money” by continually expanding Super Rugby.

He told the podcast the competition eroded the sport’s support base, something which has come home to roost now that rugby is on its knees in the face of COVID-19.

“We’ve got bigger and bigger because we wanted more TV money, more TV money,” he said.

“The reality is we’ve had Super Rugby, it’s been losing money for all the clubs hand over foot and we’ve maintained our presence in that tournament.

“This is where I fell out a fair bit with Australian Rugby. A few years ago when they were making the last arrangement around what the next Super Rugby was going to look like, I was adamant about changing towards trans-Tasman, and Japan as well.”

Cheika said time zones made it difficult to incorporate South African and Argentine teams, whose presence made it challenging to build a local fan base.

With less travel, he believed it would be easier to operate a home-and-away draw which was the lifeblood of supporters and sponsors.

Cheika said RA had lost sight of the old-fashioned measure of success – participation numbers, where future Wallabies and supporters are harvested.


Now an assistant coach with Sydney Roosters, he believed the NRL’s insistence that its broadcasting deals include a free-to-air element had made it more visible than the 15-man code, which sits almost entirely behind a broadcasting paywall to maximise revenue.

During his coaching tenures at the Waratahs and Wallabies, he opened the doors at training to teenagers, hoping to entice them to rugby.

He said it became apparent the only players they were familiar with were the likes of former NRL stars Israel Folau and Curtis Rona, who they’d recognised from free-to-air coverage of rugby league.

“I think we probably go for the easy money sometimes and I understand why. It’s not easy to give up that nice lollipop, that big TV money,” he said.

“As much as (Super Rugby) is a great competition, it’s not sustainable and so it’s been proven before COVID-19.”