I think we can all agree that the World Club Series was a big disappointment from a results perspective, and we have all subsequently hit the panic button and decided we aren’t able to compete any longer with the NRL.
There have been many reasons passed around the mainstream and social media worlds – salary Cap, player participation, attitude and work ethic – the last of which are complete rubbish. Super League players train as hard and have as much desire as the NRL players, I assure you of that.
The other two issues are the ones that I would like to talk about from what I feel is a unique perspective, as an Australian who has been in the Uk for 12 seasons and counting. Raising the salary cap has been perhaps the biggest issue that people have been putting forward and I do believe it needs raising. Certainly I feel it is more valuable for player retention to our game than to attract the high-profile players over from the NRL, although more money would certainly help that also.
We want to raise the cap to attract players, however we have introduced a marque players allowance open to all clubs to spend outside the cap big money to get whoever they wish but as yet I don’t know any club who has used it to bring a big name in. Hypothetically, if we raised the cap to close that gap with the NRL and it was sustainable what would be the goal of the clubs and our game to achieve?
I feel if this were to happen it would make for a very good competition and some excellent star-studded teams and potentially some great WCC results… although what would that mean to the development of our players and the national team? Wouldn’t filling our teams with international players stunt the progression of the British players coming through?
I have looked at rugby union in Europe as an example of this to see what I could find. The teams I studied were Toulon in France and Saracens in England. The international count in both of those squads was 18 and 16 players respectively. Both of these clubs have ample money, especially Toulon, and they win competitions regularly but what does it do to the home-based players?
I believe it hampers their development as players drastically. Since the huge money has come into France’s Top 14 competition clubs have purchased the finest players from all corners of the globe and the French national team has dropped from second in 2006/07 to seventh in the world rankings and it is showing no sign of improvement.
We need an increase in money into our game to keep our best players and allow some great ones in also, but I don’t feel it will solve all our problems. The second point is that of player participation, the argument that the NRL haa a bigger pool of players to choose from, which is true. But to say that is why they are the best currently is wrong.
Again I have used our enemy in rugby union, so I apologise, but the numbers of registered union players around the world makes for interesting reading. The amount of registered players in the England is 340,347 as of 2014, Australia had 230,663, New Zealand 148,483, Ireland 96,880 and Wales 73,444. Now based on this the England national team should be far superior to, say a country with less than half the pool to choose from, in NZ or a country like Wales with more than four times the amount of players to pick from. But we all know this isn’t the case – the Kiwis are by far the world leaders in rugby union regularly – and I don’t think it’s the case in our game either.
For me it’s what we do with our players that makes all the difference – the style, the identification and the coaching. We chop and change the junior structure of rugby league constantly over here and I think that has the biggest bearing on the players we create. We don’t have anything consistently to build towards and the players don’t have the time to develop.
Now this is where I contradict myself slightly, I feel the big cash injection needs to be in the junior coaches. There is little to almost zero money for the people involved in the lower teams of any Super League club. Now how are you going to get the best coaches to identify and turn the best players into great rugby league players who are ready to go into any Super League team and perform? I don’t think we can.
When I was coming through in the NRL I was fortunate to get to spend time with Matthew Johns, someone whose knowledge of the game is incredible. He wasn’t a coach at our club but did some work with our young halves to help us develop into better players.
Now his brother Andrew Johns has done this with many clubs and the results speak for themselves. He has worked with players like Keiran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Jarrod Mullen and Mitchell Pearce to name a few. Not a bad stable and Matthew and Brett Kimmorley have done similar at many other NRL clubs. This is something our competition is screaming out for, especially the lack of depth in the halves for UK players.
You also only have to look at the National Youth Competition or the Under-20’s completion to see the ex-players now passing on their experience and knowledge to see why the NRL continually churns out great players. Not through having more quantity, but what they are able to do with their players to make them quality.
For me, there is no quick fix and perhaps this 3-0 World Cup Series loss comes at a great time so that we can put in place some structures and a plan to carry forward to enable Super League to match it better with the NRL teams for many years to come. This we can do.