If The ARU Had A Billion Dollar Broadcasting Deal They Wouldn’t Hold Back

In 1999 Rugby League in Australia wasn’t in a very good position. It was still recovering from the Super League War, it was cutting back on spending, it was looking to kick teams out of the competition…basically it was in damage control.

At the same time Rugby Union in Australia was starting to come to terms with professionalism (Read paying tax) and things were looking great. Especially with Rugby League having to cut back on spending.

It prompted the head of the ARU at the time to suggest that IRB should give him the profits from that years Rugby Union World Cup to “buy” Rugby League in Australia and end the game once and for all.

Funnily enough the IRB didn’t think handing over $100 million to the ARU to lock up the best “Rugby” players in the world was a great idea.

14 years down the track and things have changed. Rugby League in Australia now has an obscene amount of money. So much that it will be putting $40 million away every year for a future fund. The ARU meanwhile has lost millions of dollars every year for the past few years.

News that NRL CEO David Smith met with ARU officials over playing a hybrid game between the Australian Rugby League and Australian Rugby Union teams made me wonder….if the shoe was on the other foot, and the ARU was the one with all the money, would they hesitate to gut Rugby League of it’s best players and clubs?

I don’t think they would.

I think the ARU would start up expansion clubs to fill with all of the Rugby League players they would buy. They would spend what ever it took to destroy Rugby League in Australia. It would be a smart move too!

When you look at how much publicity they got out of one player in Israel Folau, imagine if they bought 50 of the best players in the NRL. It would just make sense. They would HAVE to do it.

That makes me wonder what the attitude is within the National Rugby League towards making a similar moves against the ARU. It wouldn’t take much money at all to completely decimate Rugby Union in Australia.

If the NRL decided to buy key Rugby Union stars and then auction them off to NRL clubs, there would be nothing the ARU could do in response. They simply don’t have the money.

If the NRL just looked to buy 20 of the top Rugby Union players in Australia it would destroy the Australian Rugby Union test teams hopes for a long time. It would destroy the fragile depth that Rugby Union in Australia barely clings onto.

There is not even the slightest hint that anything like this is on the cards though. Instead the NRL CEO is negotiating with the ARU about playing a possible exhibition game with them!

I have no doubt that if they ARU had an opportunity to destroy the NRL they wouldn’t even have to think about it. They would do it in a second.

It is completely ridiculous that Rugby League has so much money and yet has to compete with the ARU for Israel Folau. There shouldn’t be any competition at all! The NRL should be making sure that Folau comes back to Rugby League, and while they are at it, buy Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Will Genia, James O’Connor and pretty much any Australian Rugby Union player worth any value at all.

It would only take a few million dollars and the ARU would be left having to field a reserve grade team. They’d have nothing to sell.

Yet Rugby League sits back….it does nothing….

When the AFL went and bought Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt it was taking a chance. Folau didn’t work out, and Hunt was good but didn’t quite give them the promotional value the wanted from him. They gave it a go though, and you can be sure that had both players turned into AFL stars Rugby League would be losing players left, right and centre to the AFL and it’s clubs and hey looked to destroy their main winter sporting rival.

When the ARU started buying Rugby League players such as Wendel Sailor, Lote Tuquiri, Matthew Rogers, it worked out great for them. They got a huge public relations boost and all three players were walk up starters to their test team.

The only reason the ARU didn’t continue buying NRL players is because they were losing too much money to justify it. Even so, the are fighting for all they are worth to keep Israel Folau on their books.

Rugby League in Australia used to have the same attitude. The games clubs and administrators used to go out and buy the best talent they could find. They took chances and they weren’t afraid to make the occasional mistake.

There were times when the entire Australian Rugby Union lineup would switch codes and be playing Rugby League the next season. Back then when players left Rugby Union to go and play Rugby League, they were banned from playing Union for life.

The hangover from the Super League War has been that Rugby League has been too frightened to make any ground breaking moves. It is too scared to be bold and take a few chances. Now every decision needs to be run by a committee and picked apart by a thousand naysayers. This leads to the game making the safe call every single time.

Rugby League in Australia needs a strong leader. Someone that isn’t afraid to drive the game forward. Someone that is willing to take a couple of chances. Someone that will make big moves to try and motive the game.

Negotiate with the ARU to put money in their pockets? Please. David Smith should be looking to buy the ARU’s biggest stars. Give Rugby League a boost and cripple an opponent. After all, if the shoe was on the other foot, the ARU would be doing the same thing to Rugby League.

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3 thoughts on “If The ARU Had A Billion Dollar Broadcasting Deal They Wouldn’t Hold Back

  1. I like your thinking, but the majority of the current Wallaby team would not be worth the cash you would have to pay to get them to swap codes.

  2. Here’s an idea: Have an ‘NRL Wallabies Team’. Week in, week out, playing NRL. Employ an NRL hardened forward pack to batter space for the Wallaby backs to play League. I would pay to watch them play.

  3. While I agree that the NRL has been very conservative ever since the Super League War, I don’t think buying the Australian rugby union talent would be a wise move.

    Firstly, while the NRL currently has a high income, they do not have assets, a “warchest”, if you will. Going and buying the top union talent would eat up a fair chunk of this extra income. But what would it gain them? A few big names that will probably struggle in their new sport. The Wallabies currently struggle to win anything of note, so weakening them will not change a lot.

    Secondly, the NRL is fighting wars on multiple fronts. Using this money to fight union will mean less funds to fight the AFL.

    And lastly, while the ARU is currently weak, the strength of union has always been overseas. NZ, England, South Africa, France. Weakening Australian union would not kill the sport like weakening Australian league may have. With the access to the funds that the IRB has, a bidding war could quickly send the ARLC broke.

    My preferred plan would be to use league’s current riches to expand, both inside and outside Australia. Bringing in a team from Perth would help the fight against both ARU and AFL. Bringing in a team from Wellington would help league grow further in NZ. Spending money on developing talent in other pacific nations like Fiji and Samoa would make league more popular, possibly weakening union again.

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