“HOPEFULLY it flows down to the grassroots”.
It’s a common cry when rugby league comes into money and the first comment I heard from someone after the announcement of the five-year TV rights deal secured recently by the Australian Rugby League Commission. With other aspects of the deal still to be confirmed, the final deal is expected to be worth well over the current total of $1.025 billion dollars.
The TV rights arrangement which includes, but is not limited to, NRL matches, Origin games and international matches, has been trumpeted by authorities one of the sport’s most significant events of recent years.
However, the impact on the grassroots of the game with a strategic plan for how to spend the money could be the biggest long-term impact of the deal.
Development of the sport across Australia and New Zealand, and indeed the rugby league world, could benefit greatly if an effective development plan is put in place.
This is not to criticise what clubs currently contribute in this field but to act as a guide for a ‘whole of NRL/ARLC’ plansee more NRL competition/trial games in places like Mackay.
Working with the current initiatives such as the NRL One Community program, the sport has the opportunity to grow the player/fan base in untapped areas.
Based upon whatever cash allocation the clubs/ARLC designate for game development the clubs should gain their allocation once they have indicated how they would implement the below plan.
‘Whole of rugby league development plan’
-National visit; Minimum of one visit to a designated tier two or lower nation to play a trial game and stage a series of player development and coaching development camps over the course of the five-year deal. This should be in addition to an overall plan of support which the clubs provides the foreign governing body. This will vary based on club capacity but should be minimum standard as a way of supporting ‘smaller’ nations in between World Cups and related tournaments. The national visit concept doesn’t mean Ben Barba gets flown in every pre-season to the Cook Islands over five-years but maybe in this first year he goes as part of the team for a three-day camp. The following year the club’s sports science staff go and do a workshop for the nation’s talented rugby league players. This could be linked to their local Olympic organising committee, talking about nutrition and related areas. Then in year three the Bulldogs NYC team plays a game against the national side. This plan allows for club innovation but should be aspirational in nature.
-Regional/country visit; This will be an easy one for most clubs as they often undertake this work in pre-season but could be expanded during the season. As an example the Canberra Raiders played a pre-season game in Albury this season. During the season perhaps a group of the club’s injured/fringe players could host a clinic for all the local junior clubs at targeted age groups. Eg: Under 14s one year and under 16s the next. Rather than having a clinic with 100 kids showing up and three players throwing balls among them, these clinics would be about quality over quantity. This could and act as a reward for local players during the season and also help to identify talented coaches.
-Schools event visits; From primary school regional events to independent schools carnivals, a schedule should be implemented whereby players attend to present trophies, certificates etc to participants. This would help affirm to young players the pathway they are embarking on. These events go a long way to redressing the ‘we never see big players at our event’ catch cry which exists in all sports, not just rugby league.
Developing many of these relationships may prove harder for some clubs but it will be a reward for those that have already been proactive.
The above does not take away from the regular day-to-day development which occurs when staff from the Development Unit of the ARLC stage “Come and Try” and development clinics (It may even work in tandem with their work plans.) It’s aimed at enhancing the overall image of the game and also managing the perception of ‘the NRL not doing enough for footy in the bush.
Perception is often reality and a planned approach to the above initiatives could derive a myriad of benefits.
Over a five-year period I do not see the above plan as onerous for clubs
Based upon recent News Limited reports outlining a possible split of funds, including a ‘fighting fund’ component of the deal, the ARLC has budgeted for $40 million per year. A percentage of this could be allocated to the above plan.
While I hate to put red-tape in front of people I firmly believe the clubs have a responsibility along with the authorities to pitch in for the growth of the game. For the extra money they are getting and the additional benefits of perhaps identifying the odd good player, surely it’s worth it.