NSW Rugby League chief executive, David Trodden, says the sport needs a single, united state body if it’s to tackle the might of the AFL in the Riverina.
While the Country Rugby League (CRL) has governed the sport in regional NSW since 1934 – leaving the NSWRL basically representing Sydney – Trodden said his organisation is well aware of the strength of Australian rules right across the state.
“AFL is a big challenge, particularly in your area,” Trodden said.
“In Queensland, it’s different... they have two AFL clubs but the clubs are in the bottom four.
“In NSW, with the proximity to Victoria, AFL is a big issue for us. (They) have two teams in NSW, both in the top four and likely to be there for the foreseeable future.
“We think a single state (league) body is more able to assess those sorts of challenges as well.”
Ironically, while the Greater Western Sydney Giants are under pressure from rival AFL clubs over their access to southern NSW players, Trodden indicated the NSWRL is all too aware of the influence of the Giants academy system – giving the region a direct link to a club as well as developing Aussie rules players who stay in the local competitions.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Daily Advertiser, Trodden responded to the concerns of league legends Steve Mortimer and Arthur Summons who have lamented the lack of support for country NSW.
He was at pains to point out he wasn’t criticising the CRL but said the NSWRL is seeking to deliver on an NRL commitment to provide all young league players with a clear path to the top.
“One of the gaps we have in NSW is that we have NRL teams in regional areas in Newcastle, Illawarra and Canberra and we have second tier teams in Wyong, Newcastle and Illawarra,” Trodden said.
“But for anyone else who lives outside those areas to get to an NRL club say from Wagga – they have a general sense that you’ve got to go to Sydney and try out for the Bulldogs or Tigers, but no clear definition of what their pathway is.”
As well as outlining the vision for country-based state cup teams, underpinned by regional centres of excellence, he said a united state body could better represent all areas.
“We would never want to see an organisation that didn’t honour the traditions of all the great things that have happened in the Country Rugby League,” Trodden said.
“We think if we can come up with a solution that address all of those issues (including fair representation of country and regional NSW), we’d actually have a governance structure for the game that provides regional NSW with greater access to the decision-making functions of the ARL Commission.”
The CRL isn’t a voting member of the ARL Commission, unlike the NSWRL and Queensland (which is represented by a single body, the QRL). When it comes to funding, the CRL negotiates on its own.
But ending the Country-City divide isn’t a popular option with the CRL, which believes it is best placed to represent regional areas, and points to healthy participation rates as proof as evidence. It is also advocating for more NRL games to be played in regional areas from next year.
But the NSWRL says it’s committed to pushing for change.
“That’s a discussion that will happen between the CRL and the NSWRL over the next months and maybe years,” Trodden said. “It’s not going to happen today or tomorrow.”
“But the pathways discussion – that’s an existing policy of the NRL, to purse that pathways restructure.
“It’s to be implemented between now and 2022.”