Three places for NSW in national comp
Ben Kimber, Greg Growden and AAP
NSW will field three teams in a new national tournament that may threaten the future of the Sydney club competition.
A three-day summit on the future of Australian rugby ended yesterday with the game's power-brokers declaring it a success after it endorsed the third-tier, eight-team competition for next year.
NSW will field three sides, Queensland two, and there will be one each from Canberra, Perth and Victoria. Each squad will have 28 players.
The composition of the three NSW sides is now in the hands of the NSWRU, but its chief executive, Fraser Neill, last night virtually ruled out a Sydney club standing alone in the new competition, as Randwick and Sydney University have sought to do.
"I don't see how you could have a club stand alone when only three are allocated," Neill said.
David Mortimer, president of the Sydney University club, said the funds would have been better spent on grassroots rugby. "The program as proposed will surely result in a significant loss and that's money that would be better spent on the grassroots," Mortimer said. "The fix was in. It was exactly as foreshadowed, and if they think they won't be held accountable for their decision they've got another thing coming.
"This is a serious blow for those clubs that don't have the horsepower to regroup and fight the battle, but I'd be surprised if some of the bigger clubs weren't ready to take it to the next level."
The third tier will push Sydney's clubs back into amateur status, becoming feeder clubs for the new entities. It could have a serious impact on the viability of the Tooheys New Cup.
The NSW Rugby Union had forgone the opportunity to have a fourth team to ensure the inclusion of Victoria.
The competition will cost $2.5 million to administer next year and is expected to run at a loss in its inaugural season - as a consequence it is believed the ARU will withdraw funding from current club competitions.
The ABC has expressed interest in telecasting all matches in the new competition.
The competition will run from July 28 until October 14. This playing window is based on:
The club season will no longer be broken into two competitions. Club rugby will run from March to July;
It will begin after the Super 14 and the Australia A program;
It will ensure the availability of Australian under-19 and under-21 players;
Each team will play 10 to 12 matches, with the top four teams contesting the finals.
ARU boss Gary Flowers said he was thrilled Australian rugby would have a third-tier competition like New Zealand and South Africa. "It's been something that Australian rugby has been looking at for well over a decade," he said.
"The biggest issue has always been getting an agreement from all our broad stakeholders, and I think it's great we've got an agreement. It's the next big thing in Australian rugby."
Meantime, Wallabies back-rower George Smith backed up his success in the Brumbies players' player award by last night winning the 2006 Australian Super 14 player of the year award.
Smith, who tallied 35 votes, finished seven ahead of Peter Hewat, Stirling Mortlock, David Croft and Scott Staniforth. NSW prop Benn Robinson was named Super 14 rookie of the year, while the Waratahs' Ewen McKenzie was the Super 14 coach of the year.
Smith's ACT teammate - prop Bill Young - will seek a second opinion on the extent of his neck injury. Young, who is not out of contention for a Test front-row spot, is eager to continue playing.
Wallabies centre Matt Giteau rates himself as having no chance of playing against England on June 11, as he is not yet able to run after having minor knee surgery.
Waratahs back-rower Stephen Hoiles has been forced out of NSW's match against New Zealand Maori at the SCG tomorrow night because of a knee injury.
The Australian under-21 team had an impressive 45-12 win over the NSW Academy at Victoria Barracks yesterday, with Josh Holmes, Digby Ioane and Tatafu Polota-Nau all prominent.[/b]