One day……one day, the game of Rugby League in Australia will be run by an independent commission that is set to streamline the administration of the sport. Backed by the riches that are expected to come from a billion dollar broadcasting deal, the game finally see’s a chance to do a number of things it has been unable to do due to the games under funding for over a decade.
My question is this. Should Australia be the only country that, over the long term, makes gains on the back of the NRL’s broadcasting deal?
Over the last 30 years, and in particular over the last ten years, the National Rugby League has benefited from an influx of talent that has come from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Isn’t it in the best interests of the National Rugby League to channel some of its funding back into the grass roots of the game in these countries that are providing so much talent?
These questions make me think about the future structure of the game. If the streamlined Independent Commission is the right model for Rugby League administration in Australia, could it also form the basis of a wider organization that’s role is to be an administration of Rugby League across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands?
One great advantage we have in Rugby League in the southern hemisphere is the fact that we don’t view ourselves as individual countries, we are one Rugby League community. In Australia, we don’t view New Zealanders or Pacific Islanders as imports for instance, they are just footy players who are just as much a part of “our” game as any Aussie player.
Benji Marshall is quite possibly the most popular Rugby League player in Australia. The same Benji Marshall that was instrumental in helping New Zealand win their first World Cup, on Australian soil no less.
So once Australia has got itself sorted, righted a few past wrongs and fleshed out its new administration in Australia, what is to stop the Independent Commission from opening itself up to members put forward by the New Zealand Rugby League and further down the track, Pacific Islands nations?
For that to happen you would have to see Australia be willing to lower its influence over the running of the Independent Commission. That would take some vision, some forward thinking and the realization that the health of the game overall in Australia is directly impacted by the health of Rugby League in New Zealand.
It would take but a fraction of the money that would come from the NRL’s future broadcasting deals to fund all of Rugby League in New Zealand. By standing as an Australasian wide administration, the new governing body would have a greater ability to make deals that would help the game in New Zealand.
Right now Australian based NRL clubs have free reign over New Zealand junior players. It is a case of ever club for themselves. We have seen that hundreds of great junior players in New Zealand over the last few years have been signed by up by NRL clubs, moved to Australia, put into Australian schools and found their way into Australian first grade teams, and ironically the New Zealand Warriors have struggled to keep the best Kiwi juniors on home soil.
Maybe under an Australasian administration we could see this practice changed. Would it be such a bad thing for the game in New Zealand if NRL clubs were given regions of New Zealand to treat as junior bases, setting up academies, improving facilities, providing funding and coaching and trying to keep young Kiwi players in New Zealand until such time as they are ready to break into first grade?
Where is the down side in all of this for New Zealand? They would get more funding directly from the NRL broadcasting deal. They would get secondary funding from NRL clubs focusing on regions the current NZRL just doesn’t have the funding to do anything with. They would have more bargaining power on the back of being part of a much larger governing body that can offer more directly to broadcaster and sponsors.
You think an Australasian Independent Commission with a Kiwi influence wouldn’t be pushing big time for a second New Zealand based NRL team? Hell, that might even be part of the deal to make an Australasian Independent Commission become reality!
It makes no sense to me to see the NRL sign a massive broadcasting agreement, see the vast majority of that money spent in Australia, and then right next door we have the NZRL admirably struggling along in a very different financial situation, especially when the NZRL provides the NRL with so many players!
As the Independent Commission was formed in Australia, two of the bigger power players were the NSWRL and QRL. Times change, and if we want to see the game move forward I think it is already time to start thinking about bringing the NZRL to the table.
It might not happen in the next five years, but I could easily see it becoming a reality by the time the NEXT broadcasting deal starts to become reality.
With what will likely be by then an 18 team NRL competition, looking to sign an even bigger broadcasting deal, with Australian Rugby League getting its house in order, and with the need for another team in New Zealand, I think it would be very easy to see the NZRL and the Independent Commission sitting down and thrashing out a deal.
New Zealand will always fiercely want to hold onto some of its independence, however the chance to get a piece of the billion dollar pie that is on offer would be very hard to refuse.
As the NSWRL and QRL still hold some level of governance over their respective states, I could see the NZRL holding a similar role under the umbrella of an Australasian Independent Commission.
It would be a big step for all involved, but it would be a good thing for the game in New Zealand to go from an incredibly strong influence on the game that lives on struggle street, to being a strong influence that has the backing of a billion dollars worth of broadcasting right.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
Jan 11, 2020 0