I hope this week’s missive finds you happy, fat and well into your respective rugby team’s status in the season thus far. And if not, give yourself an uppercut and ask yourself ‘Why not?’ as there’s lots of good stuff going on around the place. So get out there and get involved.
And in the midst of whatever you’re following locally, there was also plenty of Super Rugby to be consumed. And after some of the to & fro last week about Super-level player depth, squad and player availability, drafts, the ‘necessity’ (or otherwise) of poaching players from league, and the story that just won’t go away about AJ’s infatuation with Bernie Foley, I found myself inexorably forced to reconsider one of my biggest bugbear subjects: the 3rd tier. The only reason we’re having these conversations about other sources of players is because we don’t have a ready supply of players to draw on at home.
Many say we don’t need a 3rd tier. They point to the north, especially England and France, where there is no 3rd tier as evidence there is no need for such an extravagance. Likewise, many say that as Super Rugby itself is not a viable stand-alone entity, it’s still a drain on national resources. Thus we can’t afford a 3rd tier. And to be fair, both arguments have some validity. England and France don’t have a 3rd tier and they’re certainly strong. And comparatively Super/SANZAAR Rugby isn’t proving itself a barnstorming financial success.
However, for me, the perennial strength of South Africa and New Zealand, plus the more recent rise of Ireland, all facta non verba overcome those arguments. Let’s be honest – the Interpretative Dancers (‘87, ‘11 & ‘15) and the Saffas (’95, ’07 and ’19) between them have 6 of the 9 World Cups played to date. That’s pretty domineering. And they have done so without having the biggest player bases nor the most money (both of which honours have always belonged to the English, although the Frogs and Japan now rival England for the spend component anyway). So despite not having the best tools, those two middle-manpower nations have incontrovertibly owned the world rankings between them for the last 30+yrs, and anecdotally done so for far longer. So one would think, if nothing else, any similarities in how they structure and pathway their domestic development would be indicative of success. And the biggest fundamental they share is what exactly? A third tier via the NPC and the Currie Cup.
More recently, the rise and rise of Irish rugby likewise shows that a structured pathway, along with a properly supported 3rd tier, can bring success to even the most convoluted and underperforming structures.
So to me, the necessity of a 3rd tier to both pathway players up and into Super/National level readiness, but also in-which to house and hold talent and knowledge at a domestic level that would otherwise be lost, is fundamental to buttressing a National team. Again, let’s be honest, if I were a Super player at the moment, and I looked down over the edge of my boat to see who is in the water below me who may leap up and take my place, there is NO ONE and NOTHING swimming about ‘down there’ that could step up out of club land and into Super land to take my spot. As such, that fundamental ingredient so necessary to force young men to perform at any level of footy – pressure on your position to perform or get dropped – is just not there in Australia. Why? Because the guys who could provide that pressure have already left for UK, Europe, Japan, America or bloody loig. Comparatively in both EnZud and Jaapyland, there’s a veritable rump of prime beef continually both coming through, but also sitting ready to go, who will happily take anyone’s spot in any squad if the door was ajar even a millimetre. And that hurts us.
But we’ve argued over this for so long in Australia. And we all know that, altruism aside, any shot at a proper NRC style 3rd tier in Australia, no matter how much it is demonstrably in the national interest, will simply be unsupported by NSWRU and the SRU. SRU and Shute, who control NSWRU, will sooner do something positive in western Sydney then they will do anything to properly play their role in an NRC as it takes players and focus off the Shute Shield. That is not controversial to say. It has been proven. Thus any NRC will fail at this point in time.
So perhaps it’s time we look at it in more of a ‘use what we have’ manner. And to that end I propose this: why not make Shute Shield the 3rd tier?
In broad strokes, how about if Shute moved beyond the half-way house it is now in terms of not being sure about its semi-professional status and instead became the officially nominated and professionally-run 3rd tier? Cities like Brisbane and Canberra with strong local structures can keep their respective competitions (Dent and Hospital as they are bloody strong comps) and use them to their own devices. But what if the Franchises such as Melbourne and Forcies at least, plus Donkeys and Pinkos if they wanted, had designated clubs in Shute that served as their 3rd tier reservoir? Take the money being spent on Runners teams and other such frivolities that clearly aren’t adding to the solution and funnel that funding into a structured, ‘path-wayed’, professional competition, with a salary cap and draft for 1st through 3rd year players, that leveraged the already existing Shute Shield infrastructure? Certainly there would need to be some governance and oversight rights given over to RA and the franchises to offset and protect the investment, but surely such a judicious approach as that is both sensible and would be welcomed by even the most hard-headed Shute Shield club because no matter what, they get money and players to add to their ranks.
So, for instance, because Queensland has a very strong Hospital Cup, let’s say by example they have only two clubs of Newcastle & Northern Suburbs as their Sydney feeders. The same logic of a strong home-town competition sees the Brumbies only get 2 clubs as well – call them and Gordon and say Southern Districts. Manly, Randwick and Eastern Suburbs can go to the Forcies. Eastwood, West Harbour and Parramatta go to the Rebels. That leaves Uni, Penrith (who we all know should be there) and Warringah for the Tarts. Or you can mix and match the teams a bit as that’s not overly important to this model provided it doesn’t blatantly favour one Franchise (with the only caveat being that I would insist that whomever got Uni also got Penrith).
What is important though is that the franchises get a structured relationship with a number of strong clubs in a solid competition to invest in player development and depth. That sort of investment will only add to the strength and vibrancy of the Shute competition itself and thus engender their support. And thus the Franchises will have access to a veritable well of players to draw on, who because of the designated investment and depth will be at a heightened level of readiness to flow into Super squads if/as/when called. That will add performance pressure into franchise squads. And that will flow to upward performance pressure on the National squad. Everyone benefits.
Have a chew on that and give me your thoughts below.
Nutta’s Super Selection:
A little disappointingly, this side is becoming a bit predictable, but nonetheless:
- James Slipper – seriously, with no Bell, who else?
- Matt Faessler – beginning to stamp some authority.
- Allan Alaalatoa – again, seriously who else with no Tupou?
- Nick Frost – too athletic to ignore.
- Jed Holloway – grafting away strongly.
- Liam Wright – played a fantastic game against the Tarts.
- Fraser McReight – head to head against Hoops, McFraser stole the bikkies.
- Rob Valetini – owning collisions and stacking bodies.
- Tate McDermott – EJ must be getting sick of not picking him.
- Noah Lolesio – played a great game even if he did (gasp) allow some emotion to show.
- Lachie Anderson – deserved a nod.
- Lalakai Foketi – beginning to own the spot.
- Len Ikitau – is now the heir apparent for mine.
- Andrew Kellaway – plays his best footy on the wing.
- Tom Wright – consolidating the jersey.
- Lachlan Lonergan – had a great run and won some fans sans jersey.
- Matt Gibbon – I’m enjoying watching him come along.
- Harry Johnson Holmes – was really industrious. Normally I’m not a big fan, but he worked really hard.
- Trevor Hosea – maybe I’m picking on what I wish I saw, but gee wizz this guy has upside.
- Michael Wells – worked really bloody hard and did some very good things in a well beaten pack.
- Nic White – imperious.
- Carter Gordon – Lolly got 10 but not by much. Carter played a great defensive game especially.
- Jordan Petaia – becoming more assured and can cover a number of spots.
For me, the interesting selection conundrums were:
- Noah v Carter and I just felt Noah had the more dominant game. Yes he got pulled earlier than Carter, but his performance was top-notch. Perhaps it’s my Donkey bias. But if I had to pick a team to play Mars tomorrow I’d take Noah over Carter based on the weekend just played.
- McFraser outplayed Hooper even from behind a losing pack, although I am not yet convinced of McFraser at international level.
- Gleeson v Dirty Harry was very entertaining to watch. But Liam Wright was such a controlled influence at 6 for the Pinkos and Michael Wells likewise was so sound for the Force that it pushed Bobby V to 8 and the other two out of the side for this week.
Player of the Week:
Full credit to the Norwest Bulls Junior Rugby Club ( www.norwestrugby.com.au ) from Sydney who led the way and jumped in to tunnel-up and clap-on the opposing Blue Mountains ‘Bluetongue’ U12s after their match on the weekend. That’s what learning rugby culture is about. https://fb.watch/ko7kd9cfIt/
And a shout out to young Max Burey, a wee lad from down Wagga way making his way to his Super Rugby debut with the Western Force on the weekend via North Sydney rugby. Needless to say his family and particularly his elder brother Harry Burey, captain and No12 for Norths, were duly proud. Country rugby – who needs it yeh?
And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the Fijiana Super Women’s team who cleaned up the Super Women’s title for the 2nd year running with a fantastic 38-30 win over Queensland in Townsville. The Fijian team was almost unrecognisable from the team they fielded last year. But that didn’t stop them from making their own bit of history and leaving us with a bit of musical culture that was beautiful to say the least. https://fb.watch/ko8gzPrVuC/
But for me, the nod has to go to West Australian community rugby who have quietly been building an ‘all ability’ rugby competition. The Southern Lions came into existence in 2017 and they were joined by the Perth Bayswater club in 2022. And now it looks like Wannaroo Rugby will likewise field a team shortly and so create what will be the world’s first All-Abilities rugby competition. So a big thumbs up to Mike Penhaligan (the WA Rugby All Abilities Coordinator) and all those involved in just making a bloody good thing happen.
So there it is again for this week, cobbers. Read the news and share your views in the chat below.
Boire le vin.