Academy awards for country game
PETER V’landys is taking an open chequebook into his push to save bush footy, with 16 new NRL academies set to be created across regional NSW and Queensland.
Amid growing fears country footy could be dead within 10 years, V’landys is now readying to implement a bold ‘Save The Bush’ blueprint which will be unveiled to all NRL chief executives in Brisbane during Magic Round.
The ARLC chairman has also revealed the concept — which is totally funded by League Central and involves each NRL club taking on a region
— is being shaped by the likes of South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett and former Penrith GM Phil Gould.
As the centrepiece of the proposal, all 16 NRL clubs will be provided funding to establish their own Rugby League Academy in a designated country town or region. Clubs will be encouraged to mirror the work being done by Panthers officials, who have successfully implemented academy programs in both Bathurst and Dubbo.
V’landys is also seeking a commitment from every CEO to send marquee players to the bush at various times throughout the year for coaching clinics, fundraisers and camps.
While the NSWRL is also working on its own strategies, which V’landys supports, he stressed it was important the NRL also injected its own “stimulus”. While an initial figure of $1.5m has been mooted, the ARL Commission boss readily admits the figure could be higher.
“And if it takes more, OK, it takes more,” he told The Daily Telegraph on Thursday. “We’ll fund it … Because we have to do something immediately for bush football.
“There’s no point waiting three years, five years … it has to be done now.”
This is not the first time NRL clubs have been asked, unsuccessfully, to adopt an area of regional NSW.
Previously the key sticking point was always the reluctance of some NRL clubs to tip money into perceived ‘weaker’ regions while some of their rivals, for the same outlay, were given noted strongholds like Group 10 or the Central Coast.
“But we aren’t asking clubs to fund this,” V’landys stressed. “The NRL will do it … So there is no downside for them.
“They have the opportunity to create new pathways for young players, bring in new fans, all of that.
“It’s an easy sell. But importantly, it’s also about getting country kids back to footy, helping revive senior competitions, even bring some clubs back.
“Rather than the NRL having an expensive front office, we’ll be redirecting savings the game has already made (since COVID) toward attacking these problems head-on.”
While clubs will also be encouraged to take an NRL game or trial to their region from 2022, V’landys stressed it wouldn’t be compulsory and said the academies and player visits were top of his list.
Already, there are eight NRL games being played in regional centres this year.
Asked about NRL games going bush, V’landys says: “That isn’t the big deal for us.
“But clubs taking their stars into the community definitely is. Same with the academies.
“Obviously it’s a big plan, a long-term plan and in some cases it will be like we are starting over.
“But like any challenge, you take it head-on.”