A National Club Competition that wouldn’t hurt state based club rugby
By Sam Ryan
Momentum behind a club based National Competition appears to be gathering and it makes a lot of sense.
The tribalism that has seen crowds flock to suburban grounds to watch the likes of Warringah, GPS and Norths win grand finals in recent years shows where the hearts of a lot of Australian rugby fans lie.
But how do you fit something like this in around the current club season.
I think we can look to the Northern Hemisphere for help and mimic the format of the Heineken or European Cup.
Here’s how it could work.
Based on the previous seasons results, the top six club sides from Sydney, top four from Brisbane and Canberra and a side from Melbourne and Perth would be placed into four pools.
Each side would play three pool matches. The first on the Easter long weekend, the second on the June long weekend and the third on a standalone weekend in July. All three “Cup weekends” would coincide with bye rounds for all club competitions so it wouldn’t interfere with lower grades and colts.
The pool stage would end by July and clubs would then focus on the remainder of their club season and finals.
The knockout stage would begin the weekend after the October long weekend. The top two teams from each pool would play in the Champions Cup quarter finals, while the bottom two teams would contest the Challenge Cup quarter finals.
For the second part of the competition, each side would be able to draft 5-8 contracted or non contracted players that are aligned with clubs that didn’t qualify for the National Club Competition.
Super Rugby clubs can use the player draft to ensure their young contracted players feature in the competition, while aspiring non contracted players can also put their hand up for selection.
It will also make the knockout stages more competitive, with the lower ranked sides selecting players first in the player draft.
The quarter finals, semi finals and final of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup would be played on three consecutive Sunday afternoons in October at the highest ranked sides home ground.
These matches wouldn’t clash with the Rugby Championships, the NRL or AFL finals or the Spring Racing Carnival and would be played on sunny Sunday afternoons in front of big crowds at club grounds around Australia.
I reckon I’d make an afternoon of it and I don’t think the broadcasters, ideally free to air, would mind it either considering there’s almost no other sport played in that time slot.
So how do we fit this all in?
If all club grand finals were played on the weekend before the October long weekend, all sides that qualify for the National Club Competition would have at least two weeks to prepare for their first knockout match.
If you work back from grand final day, a 22-round club competition could start in late March and allow for competition wide byes on the Easter and June Long weekends and one weekend in July.
Importantly, both contracted and non contracted players would play meaningful matches all year round, clubs would have more opportunity to generate revenue and would go back to playing a full season, our young and aspiring players would get a chance to push for higher honours, we’d have a new product to take to broadcasters and our club competitions would continue to thrive.