Blocker’s radical plan for Country side in expanded NRL
EXPANSION is "back on the table" and Steve 'Blocker' Roach has a radical idea of how to reward the nursery that has fed the game for more than 100 years.
In announcing the pillars of the strategic plan that will carry the NRL forward until the existing broadcast rights agreement expires at the end of the 2022 season, ARLC chairman Peter Beattie made it clear that expansion was a key priority.
Markets such as Perth that offer new time zones in which to play on top of a new supporter base have obvious appeal while Ipswich, Redcliffe and Cairns were all named as potential bases for a fourth team in Queensland.
An unexpected inclusion in the areas up for consideration was country NSW, with NRL CEO Todd Greenberg expressing his desire to first see a team entered into the second-tier Intrust Super Premiership competition.
Regional centres such as Bathurst, Mudgee, Dubbo, Tamworth and Coffs Harbour have hosted either NRL or City-Country clashes in recent seasons but rather than one home base, 'Blocker' wants to spread the wealth.
An active member of the Country coaching team up until the concept's demise last year, Roach is regularly a sounding board for those rugby league fans in regional centres and has no doubt they would support a side that shared home games in different areas.
"I've been saying it for years, I reckon it would be unreal to have a country New South Wales team in the premiership," said Roach, a four-time Country representative in his decorated playing career.
"They feel like we don't look after them enough, that we don't cater for them.
"They could have six home grounds, just travel around the country.
"Because of the kilometres you have to travel in the country I don't think you should have it in one home base.
"People will get behind it. Explain why we're doing it the way we're doing it.
"This is why we're going to Mudgee, this is why we're going to Tamworth, this is why we're going to Bathurst, to spread the gospel of the game.
"If you have it in one place, I don't know whether you'd get the mass of people behind it.
"But if you explained to them that the team has got four home grounds and these are the reasons why, I reckon people would bet behind it.
"There's going to be a bit of travel in it but who cares?"
In announcing the strategic plan Greenberg revealed the plan for a team based in regional NSW to enter higher tiers and the steps already being taken to make it a reality.
"There are regional centres in country New South Wales that are building from the base at the moment with investment in 16s and 18s talent identification programs," Greenberg said.
"I'd love to one day see a second tier (team) coming in and playing out of the bush, affiliated to an NRL competition and an NRL team."
Two of the critical factors outlined by the NRL in any new team hoping to enter the competition are financial viability and quality of playing personnel.
With the vision of a sun-drenched Clive Berghofer Stadium in Toowoomba still fresh in his mind, Roach doesn't believe sponsorship would be a problem but did concede the boys from the bush would need some help from the top before assembling.
"Could you imagine the sponsorship?" Roach asked.
"There are a lot of farmers and people in the country who have got big cotton farms, big money, and they get forgotten.
"People like Caltex, GrainCorp or Wesfarmers. I don't think sponsorship would be a problem, I think personnel would be the problem.
"I am a little bit worried about whether we've got enough players to go around so any team that they bring in has got to have some sort of dispensation to bring three or four top players in straight away.
"If you had two or three stars in the NRL right now who were born in the country and give them the opportunity to play in the country, try and make them an instant success.
"You name Laurie Daley as the coach straight away and build it from there.
"You can't have them come into the league and have them getting beat by 40. That won't work.
"But can you imagine the response you'd get if people in the bush had the chance to go and watch Country play the Broncos?
"Imagine how many more people would follow the game if they had their own team to follow.
"People have got to have ambition and the ability to follow somebody, they need to see someone from their town up doing it at the highest level.
"We need to promote the game like that."