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The Roar



Fantasy footy: How a Rugby Australia and NRL partnership could actually work

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Roar Rookie
27th February, 2024
1629 Reads

Super Rugby in Australia is dead, and I am certain it cannot be revived. Almost all its clubs operate at a loss, with some knocking on the door of bankruptcy, dwindling crowds and weak broadcast numbers haunt each season, and it is sending the game here broke.

Rugby Australia and its member states have proven ineffective in running a competition that was once the envy of Rugby markets all around the world and it is proving to be a financial millstone that Rugby Australia need to cast off before it sinks the whole code in Australia.

Searching for answers many have signalled that some sort of collaboration or merger be undertaken with the NRL, notably by former NRL and NSWRU CEO David Moffett on The Roar, and despite this being as plausible as holding an ice hockey tournament on the equator, it did get me pondering, what would a workable solution actually look like?

While the fact remains that the cultural differences and economic realities leave this idea firmly in the realm of the fantasy, there is a world where both entities can work together for mutual benefit, however there would be a whole lot of pain initially.

Perhaps the hardest fact for Rugby fans in Australia to accept is that the current Super Rugby franchises fail miserably at both main tasks of their brief, to develop talented players and to captivate rugby fans in this nation, and perhaps even engage new ones. In fact, it would be fair to say that RA and its member states are ill equipped to run a successfully franchise competition in Australia. Which is where lies the answer, Rugby Australia should sell Super Rugby to the NRL and let them run the competition.


The actual make-up of the competition would be simple yet drastic, the Australian part of Super Rugby would be valued and then sold to the NRL. This would grant the NRL use of all the current players and licence to compete in the Super Rugby competition. Rugby Australia would use those funds to pay down debt and compensate the state members.

The NRL would then use the available playing pool to then create three new super rugby teams, The Brisbane Broncos, The Melbourne Storm, and the Sydney Panthers, three established brands with strong membership numbers, sound financial resources, world class facilities and most of all a winning culture. The now defunct super franchises of the Waratahs, Reds and Brumbies will be essentially relegated to the next tier down and play in a new state championship or quasi-NRC type competition.

Tate McDermott of the Reds is congratulated by team mates after scoring a try during the round one Super Rugby Pacific match between Queensland Reds and NSW Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium, on February 24, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The real sweetener for the NRL would be the Western Force, they would be repurposed into a Rugby League team and become the NRL’s 18th franchise, with an existing brand and supporter base (however small) and wealthy backer this is the perfect choice for the NRL’s next team and opens a new and lucrative broadcast market. It would be a huge adjustment for the Force fans, but they would still get to see the Force run around every week just in a different competition. The players that are not up to NRL standard or clearly more suited to RU would come into the Super Rugy player pool or form a Force XV and play in the second-tier domestic competition.

The big losers out of a deal such as this are teams like the Reds who don’t appear to be in crippling debt, and the Brumbies who have close to a positive win record against NZ opposition, however the competition is still drastically underperforming, and every current Australian Super Rugby team is undeserving of participating in the premier Rugby competition of the Southern hemisphere. While the adjustment for all current Australian Super Rugby fans will be difficult, as any change is, the potential upside is too great to ignore.

The concentrated player pool funnelling into three teams will ensure the franchises are instantly more competitive and moving into a more professional set up will ensure winning the tournament will be placed higher than any other priority. It is unfortunate for the Brumbies that a Super Franchise will no longer be in the ACT, but the market is just too small compared to Melbourne and the winning culture of the Storm needs to be leant into immediately.

The risk for the NRL in a deal like this is very high, paying real money to take part in a competition that is currently a black hole for funds does not come without challenges, but the advantages cannot be ignored. Super Rugby in its current format would be dissolved and a new – far more lucrative – broadcast deal would be negotiated, the brand power of the Broncos, Storm and Panthers will have Aussie broadcasters licking their lips.


A large portion of those funds will be having to be granted to those clubs every year as they now have the added expense of managing and developing Rugby teams also, but that along with the added merchandise, game day takings and new members that are historically far more well off than traditional NRL fans, the future could be extremely lucrative.

Game day and operational costs could be streamlined as the many services could be merged with the existing club structure, even game days could operate as double headers with the NRL club to build a better match attendance culture.

The current NRL broadcast deal will also be far better as it now has an extra team in a new market. With the NRL looking for new investments 4 new teams with wealthy supporters and sponsors seems a good place to start.

Rugby Australia would be the biggest benefactors of any such deal, being free of a languishing asset they have failed to make work for a decade now and having their elite players competing in a world class system where underperformance is not tolerated. Recruitment and retention will be handled by these NRL clubs which should produce a steady stream of world class athletes well versed in excellence. It also lets RA focus on their high yield events of large international tournaments.

Player contracts would have to be worked through but considering the NRL will be paying the lions share of the wages and player development it should free up funds for RA to turn around the code in Australia. Furthermore, it gives the code a presence in the talent rich areas they have been currently ignoring like Western Sydney and Brisbane’s Northwest Corridor. Yet the biggest upside for RA is that the bulk of their players will now be in professionally run franchises that will operate with one singular goal, to win the Super Rugby Pacific and should be far stronger competitors against NZ opponents and when they are released for international duties at seasons end, they will be far better and more competitive athletes.

Ideas of takeovers and mergers are fanciful and in the current climate, there is almost no chance of something like this happening. Rugby is a proud sport and any sort of handover of their players or teams to a current rival is an admission that they have failed. Yet a system like this is the only way it could ever work.


Super Rugby currently doesn’t sell enough tickets to cover expenses, the players get worse every year and the competition fails both its primary and secondary objectives to create a world class competition and strengthen the national team. With drastic changes such as this there is a chance that the franchises fail, that current fans and members of both codes get disgruntled and turn the backs on the whole idea, that the competition truly is unworkable and bankrupts both codes.

Teams like the Reds and Brumbies that have proud traditions and histories are essentially being made amateur again, the Force may resist playing in another competition, the list of obstacles is endless. Yet Super Rugby on its current trajectory will bankrupt Rugby in Australia and lead to even more infighting and divisiveness with the states, which is why drastic action must be taken to arrest the competitions ailing metrics.

And while any sort of collaboration with the NRL is unlikely, rugby could do worse than outsourcing this competition to proven performers. Unfortunately, the cultural divisions and natural dislike will prevent the entities form ever fully working together. Which is a shame as there is much to be gained from getting along.