New South Wales Rugby Union boss Andrew Hore has revealed there won’t be a Western Sydney team in World Series Rugby next year, due to a too-tight turnaround before the competition’s expected start in March.
But Hore also outlined some of NSWRU’s strategy to help regenerate rugby in western Sydney, which will see new club-school competitions between under 15s and under 18s played next year, along with the appointment of a coach development officer and a likely link with a tertiary institution.
Billionaire backer Andrew Forrest announced in August he was planning to base a WSR team in western Sydney to help rugby in the region, and there have been reports the new franchise would assist Penrith rugby club to rise again as a feeder club, after it was cut from the Shute Shield in April.
Any new franchise would require NSWRU involvement, however, and after discussions with WSR representatives, Hore said it had been agreed 2019 would be too soon and to push it would be building a professional team “on sand”.
"There won't be a World Series team there next year,” Hore told media.
“As we know there's a lot of work to be done in and around western Sydney and nobody's saying no to that but making sure it's done in an effective way.
"Our whole focus at the moment has been on unifying the game so anything we do has to be tied to our new governance model and have the full support of the rugby community, otherwise you just end up with another fracture.
"That's still open for discussion but I think everyone's in agreement it could all be to quick. You've got 2020 on the horizon and the renegotiation of where rugby will be after that."
It is likely WSR will not have a Kiwi team either, meaning the first season will be the Western Force and teams from Japan, Hong Kong and the Pacific Islands.
"I think everyone's under agreement that you can't put a professional team and build it on sand, it just doesn't work," Hore said.
"So all of the other variables that make a team like that sustainable and potentially, whether it will go ahead at all, needs further discussion.
"To try to put a professional team in by next March - nobody's got the resource probably outside Twiggy's group at this stage. Because at the end of the day we've got to look after 100,000 rugby players in our own state. With everything else going on it's a lot of work."
Hore said working groups of western Sydney stakeholders had been formulating strategy to help revive rugby in the huge area this year, particularly after Penrith’s demise and with West Harbour struggling.
But after using a deliberately cautious pace, Hore said the immediate focus will be to build stronger foundations at the lower levels instead of rushing to replace the Emus in the top grade.
That will see the roll-out of combined club and school competitions in junior age groups next year, to provide opportunity for youngsters to play.
Hore said there would be a western Sydney office created under the NSWRU “hub” model, which was rolled out first on the northern beaches this year, and a coach development manager would be employed for the region.
There are ongoing discussions with western Sydney tertiary institutions about alliances and Hore said there is a longer-term strategy to build an academy in western Sydney, likely with the assistance of local government relationships.
Parramatta have also recently re-branded themselves as Western Sydney Two Blues and the club is already doing excellent work in promoting and strengthening the game in the region, with new infrastructure programs and sevens competitions.
In a somewhat connected development which is designed to broaden the catchment for rugby in Sydney’s west and other regions, Hore said the NSWRU board had also voted to bring in an under 18s competition next year into Sydney club rugby.
Colts will still exist at the under 20s level but the aim of under 18s, said Hore, is to give kids who don’t attend rugby schools, or have access post-school, an opportunity to play in a “meaningful competition”.
“What we want to do now is support Shute Shield clubs and work with them to get into those schools and attract players we may have lost in the past, particularly when you look at western Sydney,” Hore said.
Entry into the under 18s competition will be optional for Shute Shield clubs in 2019 but will be mandatory in 2020, Hore said.