I could write a book on what has been exposed about the NRL over this period of reflection and review. Everything we have been saying about NRL management over the years has been 100 per cent correct. The financial irresponsibility, the constant borrowing from the future to cover up for the mismanagement of the present, the expensive and unnecessary job creation at head office, the flawed and expensive programs they instigated, the decaying relationship between head office and the 16 NRL clubs, the total misunderstanding of its supporter base, its naivety around programs for both game and player development – its been laid bare for all to see.
Anyway, we’ve survived the “heart-attack”. Now it’s time to put things right and start living. Put the fun back into life.
We still have plenty more to do. In fact, everyone in rugby league has plenty more to do.
Right now the NRL needs to resurrect a second tier so that those NRL-contracted players not playing at the moment get some badly-needed match practice. I raised this point before the game started back playing a month ago.
On Friday evening the Panthers and Storm conducted a game of “sevens” football for fringe first graders at the Panthers Academy playing fields. It’s a small step in the right direction, but nowhere near enough.
We need to allow all top 30 players, in every club, to be playing in some organized 13-a-side games.
Now, on to the future.
Our game needs a plan for what the NRL looks like in five, 10 and 20 years.
Our game needs a multicultural strategy. Almost one third of Australia’s population is born overseas. How do we make rugby league their game? We need an Asian strategy. If we don’t start now, we will rue our inactivity down the track.
We need a player development strategy for other states in Australia. They have big, talented, athletic kids too. Surely they can be taught to play our game.
Schedule seasons to allow for more representative football, and less club football. Maybe explore the possibility of a second knockout style competition with huge prizemoney as an incentive. Just spit-balling here.
We definitely need increased investment in the future of international football. This is Australia’s responsibility. No one else can do it. It’s important for the future of our game.
It’s important to be going to television broadcasters with new and exciting products.
The NRL should be assisting (read: take over) the English Super League. I’m serious. We need the UK strong. We also need to take advantage of the inroads the UK Super League has made into Canada and the US. It might be very much at the embryo stage, but it’s still an opening.
The NRL needs to invest in New Zealand. The Warriors should aim to be a top-four team, six times a decade. We need the Warriors to succeed. In time we need a second NRL team in NZ.
We need concerted investment in the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea. Not just domestic programs in Australia, but real investment in developing rugby league in these island nations. We only give it token support at present. There is huge potential here.
We need a total restructuring of head office and its place in the management of rugby league in this country.
V’landys has stated he is going to significantly cut spending at head office. Outstanding, I’ve only been saying this for years.
Head office needs to be decentralised. The NRL is not a brand. It is simply a competition. This flawed philosophy that the NRL is a brand and should own everything about rugby league has cost our game hundreds of millions of dollars, with little to show for the expense.
The 16 NRL clubs are the major stakeholders in this game. They are the ones with the connection and relationships to our fan base.
All community, charitable, schools, junior league, country rugby league, game and player development programs, that the NRL needs to implement, should be executed through the 16 NRL brands, and any future club brands should the game be ready to expand.
The game needs to increase funding to clubs. Players are getting enough money. Clubs deserve a greater cut of the game’s revenue. They put on the show. They need to be sustainable. They need to invest in their own businesses and resources. How our professional football clubs represent themselves to the community and the rest of the sporting world is extremely important.
The outstanding Panthers Academy at Penrith and the development programs introduced by this club have produced more NRL players that any club in the past five years. These programs have ensured the Panthers’ credibility and competitiveness, not only with the great team they have now, but sustainable well into the future. The satellite programs they have conducted throughout western NSW, have literally saved a large part of country rugby league. The success of these facilities and programs at the Panthers has lit a fire under other NRL clubs to pursue their own academies and country league relationships. Imagine if every NRL club could afford to do the same.
All NRL clubs need to be funded adequately through NRL revenue to develop our game into the future.
In return, all clubs need to be held responsible for supporting programs for schools, junior leagues and regional areas.
With extra funding, all clubs should be responsible for game and player development, in both local junior leagues, and every club should be designated country league areas to support and nurture.
Our game needs to offer incentives for player development. At present, there are no rewards for player development. If we don’t encourage clubs to develop talent, we will die.
Already we are seeing the negative effects of removing the National Youth Competition and the disrespect we have shown for reserve grade football. Our pathways models need to be revisited.
Country and junior leagues need support. Satellite academies right throughout the country.
The current contracting model for young developing players needs to be blown up and remodeled. Get the right people working in this space.
Our game needs to take control over the movement of players between NRL clubs.
Our country is probably not big enough, nor set up well enough, to implement a proper internal and external draft system. However, I’m sure our game would benefit from a more controlled process around player recruitment and contract negotiations. Giving total control over the negotiation process to player managers has resulted in a destructive element within the player manager ranks that is not healthy for our game.
The NRL should have specific trade windows. Negotiations should be conducted through a centralised process for transparency and equal opportunity for all clubs. Our game should accommodate for player trades between clubs at various points during the year.
We need to regulate how clubs dispose of players who are under contract. The majority of player movements are actually instigated by clubs, primarily due to poor player performance or salary cap issues. There needs to rules and systems put into place.
Our whole concept of how our game promotes and markets itself needs a total massive rethink. Fans don’t cheer for governance or integrity units. They don’t want to know about profits or broadcast deals. They don’t get excited by manipulated statistics on social media interactions or unique views on a website story. This is all fluff.
Promote the football, the footballers and the club logos. Promote the tribalism and rivalry between these logos. That’s the game.
We need a few more rule changes to simplify the game on the field.
We need to totally blow up the refereeing ranks. Power down and reset them with new software. The referees need an attitude shift. They need less coaching and they need to know their place in the game.
The one referee and six-again penalties have been an outstanding success. However, after only a month, an element within the referee ranks is wanting more control and greater notoriety. They are becoming more pedantic about ruck penalties and six-again calls.
Calling more technical fouls, that only a referee can find, only frustrates and confuses fans. Refereeing nit-picking will not sell this game to the rest of the world.
All in all, we are extremely lucky to have survived this very difficult period. We need to take advantage of our good fortune and build a better future.
We also need to be contracting Mr Peter V’landys for another decade.
Phil Gould is a League Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald