This is a tough one. I read a Roy Masters article on smh.com.au about what he sees as a shallow talent pool of players in the NRL.
Roy raises some valid points about the current structure of the game and what should be done to address this issue. Should players follow a traditional path into first grade like their predecessors? Have the young blokes play along side the true club men, who are older and wiser but not quite up to first grade standard. A mix of the old and the new in a quality reserve grade competition. Wally Fullerton-Smith is a player who comes to mind as a loyal club man who played reserve grade and gave the youngsters a helping hand and he is revered for his efforts with the Dragons.
Reserve grade was easily managed when the game was played under the auspices of the NSWRL and the teams were all based in NSW, so relative proximity kept travel costs under control. Can the game afford to send 50+ (NRL, Reserve Grade, NYC) players and coaches, support staff etc to every away game? You also have to consider accommodation costs, bus charters, meals and the list goes one.
To illustrate my point, the Warriors would be travelling every second week to Australia and let’s assume the reserve grade squad plus support staff would equate to 25 people. Let’s also assume a minimum of two nights accommodation for every trip. Airfares would run about $600 return (at least) and hotel accommodation at approx $200 per night for a room sleeping at least two people. Not sure on bus charters but it wouldn’t be cheap. So far we are looking at close to $20,000 per trip just for the basics. Now multiply that by 12 (for every away round) and you get an additional cost of at least $250,000 per season just in travel costs. Closer to $400,00 when you add in all the incidentals I haven’t included.
Who is going to underwrite that cost? North Queensland and Melbourne would be in similar positions to the Warriors. When this cost is accumulated across 16 teams, we are talking millions of dollars each year to cater for a reserve grade competition. Now spread that across the duration of the latest tv deal and you are looking at a cost of over $25 million for five years. That is a sizeable amount and I doubt any increase in crowd numbers would offset that cost. Partially maybe, but still a long way short.
What about the salary cap for reserve grade? How much should it be and can the game afford it? Are players in a reserve grade competition required to be full time professionals or are they going to be part time? Would part timers erode the standard of play? It’s a concept that needs to be fleshed out to consider all possibilities and the ongoing costs associated with such an idea.
All this talk about cost doesn’t mean having a reserve grade competition is a bad idea. It’s just one that needs to be carefully considered as the merits of blooding young players with more experienced players for at least a season cannot be ignored. It may also assist with the management of serious injury to the young guys who are coming through to the NRL from the NYC and their bodies simply aren’t used to being punished by the likes of SBW, Jeremy Smith and Sam Thaiday, although the latter is generally the third man into most tackles.
Another option to consider is raising the age to 21 from the current age of 20. Give the kids an extra year to get to a physical level where it’s easier to compete with grown men. That doesn’t mean ignoring the up and coming superstars who, when you look at them, you know they are good enough to play first grade footy. Guys like Daley, Fittler, and Clyde anchored some of the best NSW sides to ever take the field and they were playing against grown men like Sam Backo, Greg Dowling, Wally Lewis and Gene Miles at the age of 20 and they won in what was a golden era for NSW.
Anthony Milford from the Raiders is a prime example. Just eighteen years of age but already you can see, barring injury and/or stupidity, he is going to be a superstar in the NRL. For every Milford though, you may have five James Tedesco’s. A good young player who has already suffered a season ending injury after coming into first grade just a little too green. Already the Tigers have released Jacob Miller to the ESL and he was supposed to be the next big thing but already he’s on the NRL scrapheap. Would another year in a lower grade competition have assisted his development? The obvious answer is yes.
I think an interim solution is raising the age for the NYC from 20 to 21 or even 22. Less kids on the scrap heap, more mature players coming through both physically and mentally and a better spectacle at both the NRL and NYC level.
Sounds like a winner to me!