Dear Rugby Australia, make the NRC the main game

The New Zealand Rugby Union is open to us having between two to four teams in their new competition.

This is a letter to Rob Clarke and Hamish McLennan: tell them no thank you.

Instead, make the National Rugby Championship all it can be. Remove Super Rugby from over the top, so it can flourish. Clarke’s statements during the week were particularly troubling.

“The learning through the NRC and the ARC before that, it’s difficult to build fan tribalism with concocted teams,” he said.

“It would be great to have a competition where we liberate the top club rugby teams in the country and bring them into a competition where we are getting the best of the amateur game on show.”

This comment seems enormously off base to me. Don’t the Brumbies, Force and Rebels put paid to the idea? Or would Tuggeranong, Nedlands and Harlequins really have been better?

Go to any of those regions and are fans complaining about the Vikings, Force and Rising and saying we need to, as Clarke put it, “build on existing brands… that have reach and deep history”?

Noah Lolesio in action for the Canberra Vikings

(Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

This truly sounds like a Sydney problem. Do we really think that NSW Country and Sydney don’t have reach and deep history?

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Isn’t the issue that the top club rugby teams were asked to run the NRC teams in Sydney in the first place? And that by implementing NRC sides without a connection to the Waratahs, talent got picked off by other regions?

We’ve only had a Sydney team for two years, why not give it a chance? The issue has been structural and the lack of success, much more so than the concocted teams.

There needs to be a rebalancing between Sydney and the NSW Country side. The two top XVs for Country and City could look like the below.

1. Tom Robertson/Angus Bell
2. Tom Horton/Robbie Abel
3. Harry Johnson-Holmes/Tiaan Tauakipulu
4. Jed Holloway/Pat Tafa
5. Tom Staniforth/Ryan McCauley
6. Ned Hanigan/Lachlan Swinton
7. Carlo Tizzano/Charlie Gamble
8. Will Harris/Jack Dempsey
9. Michael McDonald/Tom Short
10. Ben Donaldson/Will Harrison
11. Triston Reilly/Cam Clark
12. Joey Walton/Karmichael Hunt
13. Alex Newsome/Lalakai Foketi
14. Mark Nawaqanitawase/Richard Wolfe
15. James Ramm/Jack Maddocks

Do we really think that Sydney Uni or Randwick have stronger squads than either of the ones above? Sure, those clubs are big contributors but there are more players from other clubs.

Take Super Rugby out of the equation, and reject the two-to-four team offer from New Zealand to apply to join their new comp.

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Make the NRC the main game, without the Super sides sitting over the top. The migration of players out of Sydney to other NRC teams while chasing a Super contract would disappear and we’d get a better picture of the relative strength of our Premier Rugby competitions.

After the NRC has run and before the internationals, have a limited NSW, Queensland and Rest of Australia series. Similar to Origin, build that up to be the high intensity competition and select the Wallabies from there.

There are 50 players from the WA, ACT and Victorian junior systems contracted across the five Super Rugby AU squads. Give them a platform to compete against the traditional strongholds. Meanwhile restore pride in NSW by having their players play for them. Queensland are actually doing that pretty well already.

If a premier region strengthens and the comp is unbalanced then you can consider adding an additional NRC team in that location. A long way down the track that could lead to that state or territory having its own origin side.

At the moment I’m horrified that the future of the game is going to be NSW and Queensland playing in a New Zealand comp, while domestically the power clubs play on a national stage.

A national club competition of, say, the 12 strongest clubs will still alienate the players and supporters of the other 39 premier clubs.

The so-called reach isn’t there, if you want to talk about concocted support it’s the idea that the bulk of people with an allegiance to a club that isn’t involved will switch to supporting those lucky few that have been liberated.

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