Samoa will make an application to the Rugby League International Federation to host a World Nines competition in 2012, an area of the international calender that is seen as a bit of a dead spot in the lead in to the 2013 World Cup.
Its a nice idea, and it has seen some within the RLIF looking to establish a Rugby League Nines circuit similar to Rugby Unions Sevens competitions.
The problem is making these competitions financially viable.
Even the proposed Samoan competition is reliant on teams paying their own way to get there. On top of that, you have to wonder about the corporate support and television coverage you are going to get if its played in Samoa.
Nothing against Samoa itself, in an ideal world all of the Pacific Islands would host bit games on a regular basis. However the harsh reality is, the money just doesn’t go in that direction because of TV coverage problems.
Rugby League Nines isn’t a new thing. It was first really given a go during the Australian Super League competition, it didn’t really make much of an impact at all.
Nines is used a lot in Europe as a stepping stone to get into the full version of the game, and it has worked well. Still, as always, you need to take into the heartland of the game to really have a concept move forward, and that means getting support out of Australia for the concept.
In Australia Rugby League sevens has always been the traditional format of the short version of the game. While Sevens is good as a bit of a slap and tickle competition, its hard to take it seriously or as anything more than an exhibition.
For Rugby League Nines to get any sort of backing you need to work around three main issues.
1. You need NRL and Super League clubs to get behind it. Even if it is an international competition between nations. Clubs pay player wages and while the do gooders can whinge all they like about clubs holding players back from certain competitions, the clubs are well within their rights to do so.
2. The Rugby League calender is already full. The Super League season is long, post season internationals last at least a month, and even then you have exhibition games over winter. In Australia you have a hard club competition that players need a rest from. You have the international tournament at seasons end and on top of that you now have the All Star game played as well as trial games.
3. You have to have this competition shown at a good time in Australia and to become part of the regular landscape. All the big money in the game, the sponsorships and TV deals, flows from Australia. If it doesn’t catch on here, it will never work.
I think you’d want to take baby steps with a competition like this. Commit to three tournaments per year and try and get the backing of NRL and Super League clubs.
If we were able to have the League calender set up so that State Of Origins weren’t played on stand alone weekends with no club games, you’d then have the scope to also have three weekends of Nines football to also be played and to have players available to be selected in these games as well.
For Australia I think you’d have to commit to the NRL that you would only select certain players for certain teams. Maybe put a limit of three first grade NRL players, three Under 20’s players and then the rest of the team made up of reserve grade players.
In this way, Australia and New Zealand would still field very good teams, but at the same time they would be spreading the experience around to a number of players at different levels.
You would need one competition to be played in Australia at least. As I said, you need it to become part of Australia’s season. I’d have the tournament either in Melbourne, where they would sell it well down there, or somewhere like Penrith where the multicultural nature of the area would mean good support for most teams. Redfern Oval would also be a very hand venue to sell out for such an event.
The other locations would have to be up to where the funding is. There are plenty of cities around the world that pay good money to host events of any kind. I would suggest that Dubai would be on target for such a competition and an ideal location as far as distance between player bases go. I’d also say that the United States would be a place to consider, the competition there has a bit of momentum at the moment, would be the ideal target would such a competition, and would be another thing the AMNRL would sell to sponsors and possible TV partners.
It couldn’t be a circus or a curiosity. The RLIF as well as the NRL and RFL would have to commit to promoting these competition as a true shortened format of the game.
This may need to see changes to junior development competition where you would have your full Rugby League competition, and maybe representative Rugby League Nines competitions also set up to run along side them or as a compliment to normal Rugby League competitions.
This would need to be promoted as Rugby League version of 20/20 Cricket and given the same game wide support.
I would also look to link up with Touch Football (Touch Rugby) and get them on board too. Allow them to join in, almost like a support category in motor racing. I think we need to get links with Touch Football (Which is basically a touch version of Rugby League) as it will help the game grow.
There is no doubt that it would work, but it needs to be well managed and run by the right people. It needs support, and to work hard to get the right backing. It can’t be an after thought, something that everyone likes the idea of but that just runs off somewhere where it is not seen.
A Rugby League Nines circuit has a chance of being successful, but as always, its up to the people running the game not to stuff it up.