Syd­ney, Bris­bane Rugby Clubs Plan Break­away

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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

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