The Waratahs are looking at keeping more Super Rugby spots open until after the NRC as a way to make the competition more attractive to established players.
NSW’s NRC teams have received some criticism over a lack of opportunity for older players from the provincial competition to win a Super Rugby chance with Waratahs spots often locked up before the tournament begins.
With a big time commitment required and next-to-no compensation, a Super Rugby spot is one of the big carrots that can be sold to club players when it comes to NRC recruiting.
Many of the Super Rugby franchises keep roster spots open to give to a breakout NRC star but the Waratahs have tended to tie up their squad early in the off-season.
That move has been pointed to recently as the reason why many players are looking for opportunities in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup or even opting out of the NRC altogether.
NRC squads are decided by a six-person panel that includes three independent selectors, including NSW Waratahs football manager Tim Rapp, and three club rugby figures.
That panel picks a list of non-contracted players of interest and then allocate them to various teams depending on their backgrounds before going to the players to offer them a squad spot.
Rapp said they were looking at a number of ways to make the pathway from NRC to Super Rugby seem more attainable for non-Waratahs contracted players.
“I don't think the NRC is a finished product yet and for us we've got to continuously look at ways to improve the quality of football that's coming through to it,” he said.
“That's potentially why some guys have gone to other NRC franchises but we in NSW, we've got to look at different ways which we can give that guy an opportunity and he's got to see it as an opportunity to potentially play Super Rugby in time.
“I think it's a genuine option we're continuously looking at.
“Telling that story and having that connection with some club rugby blokes who may potentially think that's dead and buried for them.
“We've got to tell the story better for them and actually outline how it is an opportunity for them to be seen.”
NSW reduced its teams from three to two in 2018 but after three rounds they have just one win between them after the Eagles beat the Rays in a rescheduled round one clash on Wednesday night.
That the Shute Shield final overlapped with round one of the NRC meant the teams came together later than any others.
Though Rapp wasn’t pointing to that as the reason for poor results, it has meant a lot of players are playing extended seasons with little or no breaks.
“The preparation we've had for our two Sydney teams hasn't been the best without a doubt but by that there's no excuse to be able to go and use that and go and play the way we are,” he said.
“It's a tough dynamic - for the players, it's the guys who are playing in the competitions back-to-back that's who it's tough for,” he said.
“From a Waratahs perspective, we've also got a duty of care to make sure we're not throwing them out there carrying injuries because this is a platform where they want to be seen for higher honours and at a national level and it's a really good level of football.
“If you're going into a game at this level with injuries it's not going to be good for you and it's not going to work out very well either the majority of the time for your selection side of things because what they see is what they judge on.”
The Shute Shield final was played on the opening weekend of the NRC this year, creating clashing priorities and just a few days of preparation for the NSW teams.
But it is believed next year’s Shute Shield season will finish earlier to avoid the conflict, with NSW Rugby Union and the Sydney Rugby Union mending bridges and working together.