How can we fix the ARU development pathway & win more Super Rugby games?

By Sam Ryan

At the moment it seems as though we’re missing a step in the Australian rugby development pathway.

It’s something that has been tinkered with and discussed by much smarter heads for a long time now but at this point in time, I think it’s worth addressing once again.

Earlier this month, Charlie Rorke and Nick Frost, two of Australia’s best young talents, both left Australian rugby to take up opportunities in the NRL and New Zealand respectively, just days after playing with the Australian Schoolboys against New Zealand.

They were literally signed from right under our noses. In fact, Frost’s father actually works at the ARU.

While you can’t blame a young guy for taking an opportunity, it does show that there is clearly something wrong with our development pathway.

It’s being addressed at both a state and national level but something needs to change quickly, or we’ll continue to lose our best young talent.

Currently the typical path for a promising schoolboy goes a little something like this.

After starring at school or club level, an Australian schoolboy signs with a player agent who begins to shop his new product around.

If a Super Rugby club doesn’t offer the player a development or full time contract, the young star begins to consider his options.

Rugby league clubs swarm from everywhere and have a budget and pathway that allows them to offer an 18-year old a multi-year deal to train full time and play in their under 20s competition.

The alternative in rugby, is to play colts footy and play your way into a state U20s program, where few, if any players are paid.

Now I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, or the wrong pathway. In fact, I don’t think an 18-year old should ever be offered a Super Rugby contract.

But at the moment, if we don’t sign them to something straight out of school, we never see them again.

Think Tyson Frizell, Luke Keary and Angus Crighton, just to name a few from the last few years.

Obviously, Australian rugby’s pockets aren’t as deep as we’d like and realistically we’re never going to be able to sign every young talented kid.

But surely we need to be doing more to secure the cream of the crop

Is it time to reconsider some sort of national academy?

What if each year, the ARU signed the 10 best prospects to academy contracts. Instead of shipping them away to train in a “high performance unit”, the players remain at home and play colts footy with their local club. If they’re good enough, they play their way into grade.

During the week, the academy players train full time in state based groups and follow a program overseen by an ARU coach. They could spend time training with their respective Super Rugby franchises, but would return to play and train at their club each week and play with their state U20s side.

Study or a trade should also be mandatory.

At the end of year one, contracts could be renewed or offered to other players and after two or three years in the academy, the 21-year old may then be good enough and ready to join a Super Rugby program.

It’s not about keeping every player, but it would help us hold onto the very best.

And at the same time, it would free up room for Super Rugby clubs to sign players that are actually ready and able to play Super Rugby.

Instead of offering five development contracts each year to 18 and 19 year olds, those contracts could go to a handful of 23-year olds who are physically and mentally ready to play in the toughest provincial competition in the world.

Sure the Issac Rodda’s and Jack Dempsey’s of the world will be good enough to come straight from an academy and play Super Rugby but not every player is and that’s okay.

At least this way, we have a chance of retaining our best young talent and we’re also able to field Super Rugby sides that can actually play Super Rugby.

Our sport truly is a professional and international game these days and young players have more options then ever before.

An academy might just be what we need to keep our best young stars in rugby and our best players winning on the Super Rugby paddock.