Bears, Jets and a radical path to NRL revolution
BRING back the North Sydney Bears and, while we’re at it, the Newtown Jets. And do it without affecting the quality of the NRL competition.
The future of rugby league has been the subject of much debate around conferences, expansion, a lopsided competition and the survival of bush footy.
One option the NRL should consider is promotion and relegation like in European soccer. Relegate two clubs to have a streamlined 14-team NRL premiership and a 10-team Championship (2nd division.)
Here’s how it would work.
The two-conference proposal first raised seven years ago in this newspaper will not improve the standard of the product each week.
It will actually make it worse in that there are not enough quality football players to fill 16 teams, let alone 18.
The gap between the top and bottom teams is too great.
Reducing the number of teams will create a much stronger NRL competition with fewer blowouts and more regular blockbusters.
Players that aren’t quite first graders can join a Championship team.
There would be as much interest in the bottom end of the ladder as the top.
Lower teams would be as desperate to avoid relegation as top clubs would be to make the finals.
It would add huge interest late in the season to games that are normally dead rubbers.
This will surely increase the quality of football, attendances and television ratings.
Imagine the interest if St George Illawarra was playing Wests Tigers and needed to win to avoid relegation in the final round.
DEMOTED NRL CLUBS
The bottom two teams on the premiership ladder would initially drop to the Championship.
Then the bottom team each year would be relegated.
It sounds harsh and would no doubt be met with outrage by fans of underperforming NRL clubs like the Wests Tigers, Canterbury or even Cronulla.
However tough and not always fan-friendly calls need to be made.
Uncompetitive teams on the receiving end of blowouts each week are hurting the quality of the NRL competition.
Let them go back to the Championship, get their house in order, then try to make it back through better management.
This will force them to think smarter and run a business as well as clubs like the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm and Parramatta.
So what happens to the star NRL players from the clubs that are demoted?
The players could be lent to clubs in the NRL competition. Like Storm, the Wests Tigers and Harry Grant last year. It can be done. The promoted Championship club each year would get first crack in a draft for these players.
Imagine the excitement around a fairytale return for traditional old clubs like the North Sydney Bears and the Newtown Jets.
While these clubs at the moment are nowhere near in a position to be running an NRL side, this at least leaves the door slightly ajar for it to happen in the future.
Both clubs still have enormous fan bases.
The Championship 10-team competition would also put rugby league back on the NSW Central Coast. This is a thriving rugby league region but lacks enough corporate support to have an NRL franchise. This would change if they won the Championship.
It would also be a way to help new expansion clubs like a second Brisbane and New Zealand team to get their introductions into a professional environment.
Teams would have a salary cap of $4 million.
This would give country football the lift and revitalisation it so desperately needs.
The side could be based out of the Riverina, (population 155,000) and once rugby league heartland before the AFL steamrolled into Wagga Wagga.
It could be a satellite team playing home games in country towns like Dubbo, Bathurst, Mudgee, Tamworth, Armidale and Coffs Harbour but the majority of games out of the Riverina.
It would mean high quality rugby league in the bush every weekend.
Youngsters in country towns would dream of making the side and getting TV exposure along a pathway to the NRL.
Having two competitions would allow the NRL to spread the coverage of the game around the TV networks, like what happens with major sport in the United States.
All Championship matches would be covered on TV as well as NRL games.
The match of the round could become a regular Wednesday-night game on Fox Sports.
Peter V’landys has always said he will listen to the fans.
This is fantastic. However you can’t be completely driven by the parochialism of rugby league supporters. There will be initial pain but tough decisions need to be made in big business and in sport.