National Club Championship concept to be "inclusive"

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Rugby Australia wants to make a national club championship as "inclusive" as possible as the organisation begins to discuss the concept for 2021 and beyond.

A national club championship was one of the additions singled out by Rugby AU as part of its offering to potential broadcasters announced on Monday.

That inclusion is not necessarily a guarantee that it will go ahead, as the final offering depends on broadcaster appetite as well, but its an idea that has been thrown around by fans and pundits alike in recent seasons.

Various forms of national club tournaments have been floated in a number of arenas but plans for how a national competition would work are still very much in their infancy.

It's a concept that would be an entirely new competition, played in addition to the existing premier grade tournaments around the country.

Rugby Australia general manager of professional rugby services Ben Whitaker while discussions about the idea were still in the very early stages, that would expand in coming weeks and the overarching mentality was to make it an "inclusive" competition.

"I think nothing’s prescribed when it comes to the format," he said.

"The opportunity exists to look at whether new or additional competitions or layers would be of value for stakeholders and now is the time to investigate what those could look like and how they could bring value to clubs, fans and ultimately broadcasters.

Any national club tournament could likely fit into the window where the National Rugby Championship has previously been held, immediately following club rugby finals.

Whitaker said there were some key elements to iron out as more stakeholders were to be consulted.

"We're very early in that piece of work and our desire if there is to be anything, is that it's inclusive nationally," he said.

"The detail is firstly, can you produce something of value doesn’t cannibalise our current competitions, and then off the back of that, can you bring something new into place?

"We're not looking to replace anything in the club arena, we want this concept to be something that is ultimately supporting clubs and create a greater connection there."

Whitaker confirmed the NRC wasn't part of any broadcast offerings moving forward, after six years of the competition, leaving a window in September and October to potentially play a club championship.

This year's NRC was already cancelled due to the postponement of Super Rugby and Test rugby.

"We've modelled the competitions we know about, include the international, though we don't totally know what that's going to look like, and our pro domestic competition, Super Rugby," he said.

"Every time we’ve modelled those, the layer underneath is club rugby.

"We have had the case where the NRC has been in September-October window, that isn’t a competition that we’re offering as part of broadcast proposal but then we would probably like to play something else in that period but it is all genuinely still up for discussion.

This year, Australia's Super Rugby teams played a number of "Super A" reserve grade-type matches, giving non-playing Super Rugby squad members a chance to go head-

There is the prospect that concept could expand further in years to come with the National Rugby Championship no longer being run.

The NRC was in some ways a polarising product over its six-season run.

It received praise for the development of some players but often the window for players to push themselves into a Super Rugby squad was all but closed by the time the tournament began with few spots open.

Those Super A matches were held with the view that those matches had closer ties with Super Rugby teams and ensured the standard 

The winners of the Shute Shield and Queensland's Hospital Challenge Cup have played each other in a championship match in recent years before the regular season starts.

With a view to trying to establish further ties between Australia's professional sides and the club system, any championship would likely involve at minimum states and territories of all those five teams.

Whitaker said whatever form a club championship would take, it would have a very different focus to the now defunct NRC.

"I'm obviously not the sole decision maker here but I would say in comparison to the NRC, the objectives and outcomes are quite different," he said.

"NRC was about developing players and seeing them tested at a higher level by pooling the best players available into teams.

"This is more about looking at how we support and promote existing clubs and brands. Through that, you'll get some development and talent ID value but the core objectives are slightly different."

Selected Hospital Challenge Cup, Shute Shield and SA Premier Rugby are available to watch LIVE via the Rugby Xplorer App.