When the Australian Rugby League Commission came into power there was a clear message that the new administration would have a “whole of game” approach to the decisions they made.
In the past there was something of a disconnect between the NRL competition and the rest of Rugby League. The NRL was basically a company that had been set up to run the 16 team NRL competition and nothing else. Over the years the NRL did take on extra roles, but at its core the main focus was the main NRL competition.
When the independent commission came in that was supposed to change. Decisions were supposed to be made for the greater good of the game. The independent commission made it clear that they needed to get on the front foot and lead the game world wide. While we have seen a few small things change for the better, once announcement really concerns me.
The Auckland 9’s is a really exciting concept. Rugby League turned its back on the short form of the game a number of years ago when it killed off the old Rugby League World 7’s.
The thing that made the World 7’s great was seeing the stars you followed week and week out in the top grade take on Rugby League players from all over the world. Seeing teams from the United States, Fiji, England and the like taking on NRL clubs was fantastic. If you talk to people about the old World 7’s you will always hear a story or two about the OTHER teams rather than NRL clubs. These non NRL teams added much needed variety to the competition and to the game in general. They also launched the NRL careers of a few players who caught the eye of NRL clubs and offered them contracts.
The Auckland 9’s competition will basically be a closed shop for NRL clubs only. There will be no games against international teams. Only an NRL team can take home the main prize.
There is no doubt that when NRL clubs heard about the $2 million in prize money on offer that they decided they wanted that money for themselves. Why would they leave an opportunity open for an international team to walk away with the cash when they could just keep the prize pool available to NRL clubs only?
That right there is where the independent commission is supposed to step in. That is when the Australian Rugby League Commission is supposed to step in and overrule NRL clubs and make a decision that is to benefit the whole of the game.
The Auckland 9’s game be one of two things….
It can either being an exhibition competition in which NRL clubs put on a show to generate money, or it can be a tool used to promote and develop the game.
The NRL has committed to the Auckland 9’s for five years, an extraordinary commitment to make. One that will see the competition run past the current broadcasting deal. That means the Auckland 9’s isn’t a flash in the pan, its here to stay.
Rugby League 9’s is a much more structured game than Rugby League 7’s. It is the perfect way for developing Rugby League nations to take a step up and gain experience without getting thrashed in the very few full international games they get to play against the likes of Australia or New Zealand.
Rugby Union has very successfully used Rugby Union 7’s to expand their international game into countries that would have otherwise not been able to make the giant leap up to full international without it. The short form of the game is used as a stepping stone. While it doesn’t assure teams success in full internationals, it does allow the better players to get drafted into international club sides and it is slowly helping to develop Rugby Unions international reach.
That is the way Rugby League should be looking at Rugby League 9’s.
It is not just about making money. The Auckland 9’s should be about developing Rugby League. It should be set up as a stepping stone for international teams.
NRL clubs will always cry out for more funding no matter how much money is heading their way. The income the game receives more than doubled from last year to this year and yet NRL clubs are still crying poor while wasting away millions of dollars in payments for former officials and coaching staff.
The cash grab by NRL clubs is all well and good, but at some point they need to realize that investing in areas outside of the NRL will eventually have a flow on effect into the NRL. After all, for every international Rugby League 9’s team that becomes a success, the NRL opens up a new development pathway for potential NRL players.
If Rugby League can establish an annual Rugby League competition that see’s the games elite taking one international teams, who themselves will develop great players over the years, it would be a fantastic step forward for the game as a whole.
When Rugby League players decide to switch to Rugby Union every single one of them mention the international aspect of the game as a lure. It is now at a point where money isn’t overcoming that international lure. Rugby League needs to think about that and look towards its long term future.
Rugby League needs to establish an international game that will exciting Rugby League players enough to see them stay in Rugby League. The first step to establishing a credible international Rugby League scene?
A World 9’s competition.
So next February instead of seeing players all over the world gear up to face off in the Auckland 9’s, we will mainly see NRL clubs gearing up to win some prize money. No doubt it will be exciting, but it could have been so much better. Lets hope the games administrators are looking at expanding the Rugby League 9’s concept to a much bigger and world wide competition. It needs to happen, for the good of the entire game.
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