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The problem with the NRC and how to fix it


First XV
TRF Legend
May 22, 2004
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Club or Nation


I'm posting this on the roar, but figured I'd post it here to guage the thoughts of you blokes who hail from other shores:

2017 has been a challenging and revealing year for Australian rugby. The Wallabies respectable performance in the Rugby Championship aside, the year has been punctuated by rapidly declining crowds, TV ratings and general interest in both test matches and the ever more complex Super Rugby competition, a fact that has contributed to the axing of the Western Force and all that entails.

Yet for all that, at this year’s Shute Shield Grand Final we saw one of the strongest and most passionate turnouts in years to witness a great Grand Final that truly celebrated the best aspects of the game in this country.

So what is going on here? Speaking to people in the rugby community, it’s fairly clear that the grass roots of the game in Australia is feeling increasingly alienated from the boffins that run the elite side of the game out of the ARU. The decision to agree to the current ludicrous Super Rugby format is emblematic of that disconnect, but so is the NRC, a competition that is entirely artificial and is completely devoid of any passion or support.

Compare last year’s NRC GF with the Shut Shield of any recent year and tell me which you’d prefer to be at. It’s not even remotely a contest. This is because the NRC was super imposed from above along the lines of the A-League’s soccer model. In short it’s a vestige of the John O’Neil era, when he’d come back to Rugby from soccer and tried to apply the lesson’s he’d apparently learned there.

Superficially, you can understand the logic: create an overarching national structure above club rugby that could garner greater support and fill the tier between club and Super Rugby. Sounds good in theory, but the model they chose – the A-League model – was also based on another factor not present in Rugby; a toxic and highly sectarian set of ethnic identities that made the old National Soccer League unpalatable to average fans.

That was the fundamental driver for a clean slate in soccer, and made the idea of a new set of identities that didn’t have any previous baggage the best option. However, applying that model to a sport like Rugby makes no sense for 2 critical reasons: 1. Rugby’s grass roots are thoroughly inclusive and not beset by any volatile ethno-nationalist tensions, and 2. The grass roots are where the greatest passion is felt in the sport in Australia.

This is why the NRC and the ARC before it both failed to gain any sort of traction; because unlike the NSL where fans were looking for respite from the old identities, Rugby fans remain fondly attached to their old clubs and see little reason to become involved with some plastic construct that has no history nor anything below it.

The ARU correctly identified that it couldn’t afford to fund a national competition on its own and that it needed private buy in after the ARC failed, yet it never looked at the concept from a first principles standpoint to ask if it was even the right approach.

Perhaps if these new teams had more effectively incorporated the old identities they might have had some traction (for instance each grouping featuring a shield on their shoulder with all their constituent clubs incorporated), but that hasn’t really happened for the most part.

Obviously there needs to be a national competition, but why not build it on the foundations of club rugby? I would argue that we could build a much more sustainable competition with far greater interest from the Rugby community if we were to simply have a national competition built off the strongest teams from within each of the major states.

It could effectively work as a quasi-promotion relegation structure following the end of the regular whereby we would have a 12 team national championship comprised thusly:

Shute Shield – top 4

Qld Premier Rugby – top 4

Dewar Shield – top 2

WA Pindan Premier Grade – top 2

To make this work, the competition could run as a knock out competition separated into 4 pools of 3, with the tournament ideally to be hosted in a single city to avoid constant travel. This would clearly advantage the home city sides, but it would cycle each year between Sydney and Brisbane, with potentially every third year going to either Melbourne or Perth.

This would give the competition a strong festival vibe that properly celebrates the clubs and also give it a sense of novelty.

As a funding model, to increase both the attractiveness of the competition and its level of play, participating teams should be given a share of whatever broadcast revenue and sponsorship that it attracts overall. Moreover, each team should be free to do an additional round of recruiting from within their own cities in the lead up to the championship.

By following a model like this, the game could properly capitalise on the passion of the grass roots, whilst also providing pathways for players to develop and gain exposure to a higher level than their average club level.

The downside of this would be that it would entrench successful teams within their own competitions, as each participation within the new National Cup would give them greater funding resources and exposure to a higher level.

However, because of the incentive model, each year clubs would have reason to broaden their networks, look for more sources of funding and indeed have a dream to sell to potential sponsors.

To me, this model make the most sense in both growing the base of the game, building national appeal and generating a product that has genuine rivalries and passion.

Being built off the existing organic foundations of club rugby, it would be strong, sustainable, well supported and built for future expansion.


Academy Player
Apr 18, 2010
Club or Nation

South Africa

I can't add to the format or question the format you're proposing because I have no idea how those comps are structured and who is in them. One thing is for sure, staying in a supposed Union strong hold of Brisbane I don't hear about any of them. I've noticed one of the comps pop up on my Facebook feed via rugby.com.au every now and then but it's marketing/appeal is amateur like. Maybe I'm not directly exposed to the culture or part of the right circles but something needs to change if rugby union is going to stage a fight back to mainstream attention and understanding.