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Opinion

Is it time to reconsider dumping the National Rugby Championship?

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Roar Pro
6 days ago
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The Reds’ 41-7 victory over the Waratahs on Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium was a promising start for Brad Thorn’s values-based coaching project at Ballymore, one that the Reds faithful all fervently hope will lead to rewards in terms of silverware.

The Reds beautiful unstructured attack and dominant scrum appear to have made their way into the DNA of the team, with new players fitting into the well-oiled machine just like the old hands. They were a bit rusty in some aspects of the game but there were no issues that Thorn and interim captain James O’Connor did not identify post-match, so those issues should be corrected and things are looking good for the season.

On the scrum, Thorn didn’t even need to start star tighthead prop Taniela Tupou to get the win. Playing Thor off the bench can only be good for a player that the Reds heavily relied on for 80-minute stints last year, but also demonstrated the confidence that Thorn has in starting tighthead Feao Fotuaika.

The Reds took Fotuaika out of Brisbane rugby club Sunnybank in his mid-20s through the Brisbane City team of the National Rugby Championship and turned him into a professional rugby player. A moment burned into my mind from the game while I sweated in the stands on that balmy Brisbane evening was of the 130 kg Fekuitoa sprinting across in cover defence like a halfback looking to make a tackle right before halftime.

It was an incredible effort for the man who had to lose 16 kg to get his chance in professional rugby, but it might not have happened without the pathway of the National Rugby Championship.

In July last year, I wrote about how the Reds obvious progress demonstrated the value of the NRC.

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The Reds’ excellent finals run in 2020 and the game on Saturday night surely now demonstrate how far Queensland is ahead. I think that it would be hard to find a New South Wales supporter who would argue otherwise and naturally, they want their team to get back up to their formerly high standards.

Unfortunately, however, among the unpleasant power plays that unseated Raelene Castle from her role as Rugby Australia CEO last year, the NRC was dumped to appease loud and influential Shute Shield supporters who resented the NRC and who demanded a national club competition in which their clubs can star. These people were prominently supported in the News Limited media, which was hopelessly conflicted through its ownership of former rugby broadcaster Foxtel, and which used the Shute Shield versus NRC issue as a wedge in commercial negotiations and to unseat Castle.

Castle of course resigned but Foxtel also lost its Australian broadcasting rights. Consequently, Rugby Australia agreed to a ‘short-form’ national club competition in place of the NRC, though what that is to involve is unclear.

NRC

An NRC match between Melbourne and Fiji at Harlequins Rugby Club on September 9, 2017. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Ben Whitaker from Rugby Australia said in August last year:

“NRC was about developing players and seeing them tested at a higher level by pooling the best players available into teams.”

“This (a national club championship) is more about looking at how we support and promote existing clubs and brands. Through that, you’ll get some development and talent ID value but the core objectives are slightly different.”

Given that the obvious link between the rise of Queensland Rugby through embracing the NRC for player development with the corresponding failure of NSW rugby to do the same, surely it is time for Rugby Australia to reconsider dumping the NRC with its focus on development?

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Perhaps the New South Wales rugby union and the Waratahs need to reconsider whether they are on the right path in kowtowing to the Shute Shield mob? Because from the outside it looks like they are on a path to further humiliation for a very long time.

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Perhaps some more sensible heads in the Shute Shield need to look at the opportunities that their players are missing out on, but players like Fotuaika are enjoying because Queensland has made the most of the NRC?

Perhaps the broadcasters Channel Nine and Stan need to see the NRC as a low-cost investment, which will ensure the quality of their national and provincial Australian rugby competitions for more than just the next few years?

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If some sort of arrangement could be reached where a short form national club competition can precede a reinvigorated NRC, then that would be great. Whatever happens though, the issue needs to be resolved in favour of reinvigorating the NRC for the welfare of the entire code in this country.