Leaders from National Rugby League (NRL) clubs have been summoned to an urgent meeting by the New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland rugby league authorities. This summons comes in response to a peak in distrust among the sport’s stakeholders.
This meeting was arranged by Queensland Rugby League (QRL) Chief Executive Ben Ikin and has received the backing of his NSW equivalent, David Trodden. The event, scheduled for Tuesday at the Blues Centre of Excellence in Sydney, is taking place amidst escalating tensions between the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and NRL players. These groups clash over the unresolved collective bargaining agreement.
“Our relationship with NRL clubs is hugely important,” stated Ikin. “We build the base, the NRL clubs put on the show. The meeting was arranged so the NRL club CEOs could better understand how we deploy our funding.”
The catalyst for this gathering is the potential implementation of a national reserve grade competition. Ikin argues this would undermine the QRL’s state cup. A scenario where the Cowboys and Titans enter teams into Queensland’s Hostplus competition would result in two professional teams rivalling the already established 15 made up primarily of part-time players. Each Hostplus club is granted $350,000 annually, a sum that has stagnated for the past six years, sufficing only to cover administration, travel, and coaching costs, not player salaries.
The QRL has proposed a $5 million increase to the existing grant to raise each Hostplus club grant from $350,000 to $685,000, earmark $500,000 for extra competition expenditure, and allot $350,000 for each new Cowboys and Titans team.
However, this proposition was denied at a Brisbane-based meeting prior to the second State of Origin match, giving rise to Tuesday’s scheduled meeting. The leaders of the NSWRL and QRL keenly seek NRL club engagement to shed light on their dire financial position and clarify any allegations of reckless spending. Addressing the state of bush football in NSW, Trodden recently told League Initiative that the ARLC’s grant to the NSWRL and QRL had been drastically reduced since the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent legal dispute with the ARLC. Trodden reinforced that stringent protocols govern the handling of these funds.
“The NSW clubs have the resources to finance their existing professional infrastructures, whereas our small regional clubs do not,” voiced Ikin, backing Trodden.
He went on to confirm that two separate funds exist: the funds derived from the State of Origin and that which goes towards the statewide administration of competitions. However, the second fund lacks any explicit allocation for grants to domestic football clubs and regions.
There’s a split amongst Queensland’s four NRL clubs and Melbourne regarding the proposed national reserve grade competition. Broncos, Dolphins, and Storm each maintain three feeder clubs housing surplus players. Dolphins coach, Wayne Bennett supports the ongoing competition structure, arguing Queensland’s rugby league footprint has no comparison in any code.
Ikin emphasised the potential damage a national reserve grade league could inflict on various clubs, noting that Mackay Cutters, Northern Pride in Cairns, and the Central Queensland-based Capras could potentially crumble.
There’s an overall array of affiliates in the second-tier Knock-On Effect Cup that most NSW NRL teams have partnered with including foundational clubs, Newtown Jets and North Sydney Bears, and more recently, New Zealand Warriors. While each of these NSW-based NRL clubs receive a standard grant of $17m, there is a separate allocation of $350,000 for second-tier provisions. “The NSW clubs have the resources to finance their existing professional infrastructures, whereas our small regional clubs do not,” reiterated Ikin. Even so, this publication has gathered that some Sydney-based NRL clubs are opposing a national reserve grade competition.
Ikin points to the upward trajectory of the Brisbane Tigers, PNG Hunters, and a relocated North Sydney Bears and Newtown Bears as evidence that, “the affiliate model sets up the game for growth.” He also recognised the contributions made by the Bears and Jets, noting the buoyant atmosphere the Jets have brought to Henson Park.
Rugby league is battling intensifying competition from Australian Rules Football, particularly in rural areas, thus increasing the pressure for wiser development spending. “The idea of a national reserve grade [competition] only works in the minds of people who don’t properly understand how the rugby league pathway has evolved,” contended Ikin.
By broadening the NRL‘s footprint, Ikin maintains they are creating more opportunities in more places, while also making significant positive contributions to local communities.
“Surely, if you’re an NRL executive, or an ARL commissioner that’s something you are fighting to protect and even replicate, not undermine,” he urged.