Why Scrapping U-20s Has Led To Great Divide Between NRL's Best And Worst: Phil Gould

Why Scrapping U-20s Has Led To Great Divide Between Nrl’s Best And Worst: Phil Gould
By Marc Churches
8 hours ago

Rugby league great Phil Gould says the widening gap between the NRL’s top and bottom teams has been brought on by the game’s controversial decision to scrap the under-20s competition back in 2017.

As was the case at end of the home and away last year - The Sea Eagles, Bulldogs, Tigers, Broncos, Cowboys Titans and Warriors all sit outside the top eight through the opening four rounds, while the likes of the Panthers, Eels, Storm, Roosters, Souths and Raiders round out much of the top end of the ladder.

The gap between the NRL’s best and worst comes following a round that saw an average winning margin of 26.13, the highest it’s been since round 16 of the 2004 season.

Discussing the current divide, Gould admitted he wasn’t surprised to see it come to fruition after the NRL famously discontinued its under-20s competition at the end of the 2017 season, which was replaced by state-based competitions in New South Wales and Queensland.

“Our game made a decision several years ago to get rid of the national under-20s competition,” Gould told Nine’s 100% Footy.

"At that time we warned all that this could potentially happen to the game. That if teams walked away from development and developing younger fellas to come into their roster, if we didn’t have that competitive national under-20s competition, which was the envy of every other sport in Australia, that we would see this.

"Now I didn’t think the decline would come so quickly, but those clubs that have continued on some sort of development programs are the ones that are still surviving today.

“And those that have completely walked away from it, are finding themselves in a real hole and can’t get out of it by just recruiting.”

Gould, the most successful NSW Blues coach in history, said he fears the three Queensland teams especially will continue to be affected by the decision to switch to state league competitions.

“Your Queensland clubs, who sent everything back to the state league - your Broncos, Cowboys and Titans, all of these clubs are going to run into real problems because they walked away four, five years ago,” he said.

“I still can’t believe we gave up what was a great product and a great breeding ground, not just for players, but for coaches, referees, officials and everyone working in a club.”

At the time of the under-20s competition, each of the NRL’s 16 clubs would field 20-member squads.

The competition, which commenced in 2008 before finishing at the end of 2017, saw one in five players make the transition to the NRL.

Gould took particular aim at a number of CEOs for wanting to cut costs rather than putting the future of the game first.

“There were a few CEOs at the time who thought they could save money by abandoning the U20s,” Gould added.

"These people had no idea on developing talent, they had no idea what makes it tick, they had no idea where our game came from.

"We warned them, but clubs voted because we had CEOs that didn’t understand what it was going to cost the game.

"I said, ‘you’re going to save money now, but it’s going to cost you big time down the track’.

"The way we treated our second tier 20 years ago and the way we’ve treated it sending it back to state leagues - expecting state league organisations to produce your next raft of players, it’s not going to happen.

“NRL players get produced by NRL clubs, in NRL systems. It’s not going to be produced by semi-amateur and semi-professional state league organisations.”

He said the divide between top and bottom clubs would continue unless the NRL restructures its entire second-tier and development pathways.

“This [divide] is going to keep on going for the next four or five years,” he said.

“They need to start again now and get a vertical integration within all NRL clubs - so they’ve got a second-tier team, junior rep depth and an U20s program that can produce the next range of NRL footballers.”

NRL: Phil Gould says scrapping U-20s has led to great divide in top in bottom teams

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Phil Gould is one of the greatest “Harry Hindsight’s” I’ve ever heard.

That aside, that huge gap between the best and the worst is a major problem for the NRL and one that should have been addressed years ago.

We could all see it coming last year, and it was pretty obviously coming this year with most peoples bottom 4 or 5 sides exactly where they expected after 4 rounds.

The NRL ladder is a scary sight right now.

The bottom 5 teams are 2-18.

Collectively they have scored just 194 points in 20 games and conceded 637!

There are now 2-3 games every week that are over before a ball is kicked, unless an absolute miracle occurs.

The TV stations aren’t going to pay huge bucks for that.

It’s a problem and one V’Landys needs to act on.


I actually enjoyed 20s, enjoyed tuning in to see up and coming talent. So many people bagged it, I can’t recall if Gould was one… thought it rated okay as well


I agree and I think the AFL type players draft is the answer to help spread the talent.
A draft was mooted but defeated years ago which was a bad step IMO.

Now V’landys may be revisiting the idea.

NRL draft: V’landys backs plan to overhaul player movement

An NRL player draft for rookies and the game’s biggest superstars has the backing of Peter V’landys as the current player movement system between clubs comes under review.


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Richo’s idea when he was messing about at HQ. Great job big fella.

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I love how they try and manipulate to help out ordinary club’s. Very disappointing.

A bloke like Gould will ALWAYS polarise people’s opinions because he comes across as a know it all who has proven alliances that irk many people. Including me.
Having said that, I find him a smart operator who knows the game inside out and who knows how to build successful teams.
The NRL need a 5 year, 10 year and 20 year plan for the future of the game.
I think Gould would be a perfect fit for that type of role IF, we could guarantee that he’d be independent from his obvious alliances to certain Clubs and operators.
I don’t particularly like him but I definitely appreciate his opinion on most things in the game.
It’s easy to sit back and knock the guy but Gould has consistently spoken up and made his opinions publicly known since the 90’s. I respect the bloke.

I don’t mind him Tor, and sorry if it came across that way.

He is certainly much smarter than me when it comes to rugby league.

I was just referencing his “told you so” claims that he pulls out every 5 minutes. It gets a bit old and is hardly ever traceable.

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I wasn’t shooting at you at all mate. I think he’s a polarising character for plenty of reasons.
But, he IS smart and he knows what he’s talking about when he’s serious.

Does anyone remember him talking up some reggies player from Penrith a few years back??
Many of the clubs lined up to sign him on big coin?? (thus relieving him from Penrith’s contract) I think he ended up with the Titans and, the guy was a complete dud!

That was Gould playing games and he does that from time to time because he’s a cagey bastard!!

I remember when it was always Manly, Broncos, Bulldogs and Storm on top and the rest fighting out to make the 8 or avoid the spoon. Wasn’t a problem then. Now that Souths, Penrith and Parra are killing it, it’s a problem.
Seems like our clubs deserve to be also-rans only. :face_with_symbols_over_mouth::rage::rage:


Well, they want a very fast game where, plenty of tries are scored, but equally between the two teams causing golden point if possible so, there’s fatigue that happens but, no head high tackles or, too many injuries to certain players from certain clubs and, to ensure that the prestige clubs continue their dominance in the game at the expense of the those clubs with little prestige, complete with a veil of media-driven-certainty that in fact is no certainty at all, that every club have an absolute real chance of winning the comp which, they really don’t.
That’s what the NRL brains trust are working on!

I don’t think anyone is saying that at all, and thank God we are not in the bottom cluster.

But surely you can see the benefits of having a more equal comp across the board.

TV ratings - and thus TV contracts - will plumet when you know someone is going to get thumped by 50 before a ball is kicked.

No doubt the game will survive, but these clubs might struggle to. It’s a vicious circle when you get so down in the dumps that you have to pay overs for dud players just to get them to sign. It screws you over again for another 3-4 years and so it goes on.

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NRL Reserve Grade and National YC will always be required

But we need to restart things post covid first

This is what happens when you allowed NSWRL and QRL veto rights