The NRL confirmed today that the NRL Under 20 Competition will wind up in 2017 after ten seasons. The youth competition will move to State based competitions in 2018. It will act as a third tier comp in two states below the current Intrust Super competitions.
This has been bandied around for some time, so the confirmation today doesn’t come as a great shock. The QRL had already taken that on board by announcing a new structure to the Under 20’s for next season.
The thinking behind it is to keep the young NRL aspirants at home for as long as possible, rather than to be signed by clubs away from home and left to fend for themselves when it doesn’t work out. A noble thought, given how many young players have committed suicide in the past few years. But whether the State based youth competitions will slow that remains to be seen. One can only hope it does.
As a devotee of the Queensland Cup, it is an exciting prospect to have the cream of the rugby league nursery available to local clubs rather than the Under 20 competition. Plus the NRL have announced that extra funding will be put into the Queensland and NSW Cup comps.
The under 20’s competition has served a purpose to a degree, but when we have asked loyal fans of NRL clubs to name an under 20 player from their club, just about every person were unable to name a single player of their club’s Under 20 team. The players have a better chance to be loved and followed if part of a Queensland or NSW Cup feeder side, they can build loyalty with fans of the lower tiers teams as they make their way through the NRL system rather than be a faceless player of a competition watched by so few, who are only really there for top grade.
Theory is also that young players will stay at home and play for sides in Rockhampton, Cairns, and Newcastle rather than being sent down to Sydney or Brisbane to be part of a big NRL machine whose major purpose is NRL glory. Good in theory, and great for the local teams, who usually have to compete for the NRL cast offs after they haven’t made it in the NRL. Now they will get them on the way up. If the players don’t quite make it, or do and then don’t they will have more of a safety net to come back to as they have already been involved with these clubs. The increasing of the age of eligibility will help also.
One would think that Wayne Bennett would agree with the move, as he has been a fan of putting players into the Queensland Cup for their rugby league education. Take Ashley Taylor in 2015, Bennett took him out of the Broncos Under 20’s team and placed him at Davies Park with the Souths Logan Magpies. A year later he is carving it up for the Titans in his NRL debut year. Most of the young guns used this year all tasted Queensland Cup.
But the point of the new state based youth competitions is that they will be the third tier without the pressure of being in the spotlight of a national Under 20 competition. They won’t be playing against battle hardened weekend warriors, except for maybe a handful of players who are good enough.
A few questions remain. If the 16 NRL sides are to have two feeder sides each, and that NSW has 11 clubs and Queensland 3, and that the point of all this is to keep the young NRL prospects at home, how on earth does that work? And what happens with Melbourne. They have a feeder arrangement with the Sunshine Coast and Easts Tigers in the QRL, but that’s hardly Melbourne. Although they get most of their juniors through Queensland historically like Smith, Cronk, Slater and Inglis from Kempsey in Queensland.
The main question for The Gurgler is whether or not these changes would affect our favourite rugby league side the PNG Hunters. Given there is talk of the PNG Hunters being able to submit an Under 20’s team in the future – according to this bit from the NRL website – it looks like there’ll be a PNG influence in the Queensland competition for as long as they can afford to do it, or until their internal politics ruins it.
There is also the opportunity for a forward thinking NRL club to link up with the Hunters to get a pre sale ticket to their talent. As previous PNG players who have joined NRL programs have proved, they are better as a group of PNG players than individuals. A club that taps into the whole of PNG rather than the one off players could reap rewards for years. Maybe a man with rugby league vision like Gus Gould could be that person. Imagine combining the fertile junior territory of Penrith with PNG. A frightening prospect.
It also looks like there’ll be room for two more teams in the Intrust Super Cup in the coming years, but not straight away. One looks likely to be Toowoomba, the other could be open to any number of Queensland regional hubs or even another Pacific nation. Or perhaps a revival of a past Brisbane great like Valleys or Brothers.
What is exciting is that it looks like the NRL is going to get behind the second tier Intrust competitions in both states, financially and with players to make them stronger competitions. Currently they are both quite strong anyway. The influx of the best junior rugby league talent into the system will no doubt make the comps even stronger, and even more watchable. Another positive move after the recent installment of the State Championship on NRL Grand Final day.
We’re big fans of the local league from the Intrust Super Cup, so we are always going to be biased to anything that increases its influence. So the fact that the players once lost to the lightly supported NRL Under 20 Competition will now be part of the Intrust Super Comp family is a real good thing. Will make those Sunday afternoons in the winter sunshine watching rugby league (remember that Brisbane League fans) all the better. We’re looking forward to 2018 anyway.