Sydney, Brisbane Rugby Clubs Plan Breakaway
Disgruntled Sydney and Brisbane Premier rugby clubs are planning a breakaway eight-team interstate club championship to run in direct competition with the National Rugby Championship. In a move designed to wrest the fate of grassroots rugby back from the hands of the Australian Rugby Union, the presidents of the Sydney and Brisbane clubs will meet next month in Sydney to discuss the rebel tournament, which would be made up of the top four clubs from both premier club competitions.
It is being proposed to run in direct competition with the NRC, which is in its third season and will welcome a team from Fiji next season. The NRC starts in August at the end of the Sydney and Brisbane premier club competitions, which were shifted forward to accommodate the NRC. The NRC grand final will be played this weekend in Tamworth between the NSW Country Eagles and Perth Spirit. The plan comes on the back of a host of Australian rugby greats from the game’s amateur era penning a letter of protest to ARU chairman Cameron Clyne and his board members this week. The letter, signed by former Wallabies Nick Farr-Jones, Simon Poidevin, Peter Grigg, Anthony Herbert, Mark McBain, Barry Honan, John Ballesty, Peter Falk and Brett Papworth, as well as former Australian coaches Bob Dwyer and Alan Jones, prompted ARU boss Bill Pulver to agree to a summit of stakeholders to review the union’s strategic plan. Emboldened by the support and aggrieved at the ARU’s refusal to directly fund them, a group of club presidents are taking matters into their own hands, scheduling the meeting in Sydney next month and a follow-up in Brisbane in February, to coincide with the Australian Club Championship match between Brisbane premiers Brothers and Sydney premiers Norths.
All club presidents will be invited to the meetings, in a big push to strengthen interstate relations between the Brisbane and Sydney club networks. Both groups are deeply angry with the ARU and Pulver, who has reduced direct funding to zero during the past three years and accused the clubs of mis-spending the money they did receive.
This week’s letter outlined “grave concerns” within the rugby community at the ARU’s failure to acknowledge – and fund – the work of club rugby volunteers and administrators across the country. “Our deep concern is the total imbalance between what is spent at the top of the game, both on players and administration, versus what is allocated to the grassroots. This is unsustainable and a total disgrace,” the authors wrote. “There is a war going on in sport in Australia and the ARU’s most vital asset, the grassroots players, coaches, managers, mum, dad and volunteers in all tasks required to run a club are being shafted by the ARU and the state unions they oversee.” Pulver has agreed to sit down with the club leaders but rejected outright figures quoted in the letter.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama (right) with Australian Rugby chief executive officer Bill Pulver during the announcement of a Fiji team inclusion into the 2017 NRC in Sydney last week. Photo: DEPTFO News