Good stuff Skinner, top notch as always..
apologies everyone, don't grab a cuppa, grab a thermos..
A challenge for everyone...
Before I begin to attempt this challenge, I would just like to say that what I have written below is solely my opinion. I apologise if I step on anyone's toes. That was no my intention, I'm hoping to openly offer constructive criticisms and suggestions and welcome any feedback, both negative or positive, as it could only increase my awareness in a game we all love, rugby league.
Firstly, just a very quick blurb on myself for those who don't know. Roughly 5 years ago, myself, my husband and 3 Australians set about creating a rugby league website for the fans out of frustration of what was available at the time. To our astonishment, the success of the site sky rocketed almost overnight. The general public lapping up what we offered but never satisfied and wanting more. So we tried to deliver. A lot of hard work, all voluntary of course, was put in to make www.leagueunlimited.com
a success, solely for the fans.
Last year, I took a step back from being a general editor to concentrate solely on NZ news, competitions, and so on with my good friend, and worthy opponent in this challenge, Skinner. After much settling in and just starting to get things rolling, Skinner suffered a personal setback. Unfortunately this coincided with the busiest 3 months of my work meaning neither of us could put the efforts into the site we both had envisioned. And now this year both of us for various reasons have temporarily stepped back altogether.
Thankfully for the NZ fans www.nzrugbyleague.com
after a lot of hard work by Carl and Bevan, was starting to prosper.
I will come back to this later in the piece.
Now time to sink my teeth into this challenge...
Not knowing the ins and outs of board discussions, managerial roles, financial planning and sponsorship dealings, politics etc throughout any league competition anywhere, it would be foolhardy of me to think I could set up a structured 5 year plan to achieve the above challenge. What I can do however, is offer suggestions that I feel could and should work, as an outsider looking in. Whether it takes two, five, or ten years, it wouldn't matter. What is plainly obvious is something needs to be done to aid Kiwi players, and New Zealand rugby league in general.
Let's start right at top. The International Rugby League Board.
Does this board have the power to regulate the NRL salary cap, as well as the ESL salary cap? Does this board have the power to tell certain NRL and ESL clubs that they must release players eligible to play for their country? I certainly hope so. The salary cap for all competitions should be on equal footing worldwide. The frustrations by Warriors supporters, and no doubt club officials, is huge when you see the likes of Iafeta Paleaasina, for want of a better example, playing very well in the Superleague competition, and being very well looked after, realising the Warriors management under the salary cap rules, couldn't afford to keep him here.
The exodus of players from the NRL competition over to the Northern Hemisphere seems to be steamrolling. It wasn't that long ago when the players from Down Under playing in the ESL were there for retirement, so to speak. Nowadays, young Kiwis are snapped up and offered more money than they could ever imagine and shipped to England, where their natural ability and flair is instantly successful. But at what cost? Not only to the local scene in New Zealand, but to the local scene in England/Europe. What future do the English youngsters have if they are pushed to make way for these imported players? Henry Paul, lots of media surrounding his return to league from union. Straight away he's named in the run on side for the Harlequins so he can front up against brother Robbie. Great story, no doubt about it, but who was pushed aside to make way for Henry?
For me the ESL vs NRL salary cap issue needs to be more evenly distributed, somehow.
International Rugby league is starting to gain momentum worldwide. It's great to see places like Malta, Singapore, Greece and so on getting exposure. Of course we in New Zealand are riding on the crest of a huge wave after Tri Nations success late last year. With Brian McClennan at the helm, he's been like a breath of fresh air in the league world, along with his very up front Kiwis manager, Peter Leitch. The sports stories on the radio and on television in the build up to the ANZAC test on Friday night have been leading their news segments with league related articles, and mostly positive. Unheard of in this union dominated country. And thank the down to earth approach of Bluey, coupled with some real superstars amongst our mists for that. With the Rugby League World Cup fast approaching, the profile so far for Kiwi rugby league internationally in 2006 looks pretty sound.
On to the NRL...
Back in 1995 when the Auckland Warriors first entered the Winfield Cup, they were lucky enough to have a Reserve Grade side playing regularly in the NSWRL Premier League competition, and this carried on until after the Superleague era. And our reserve side performed well, as did the Under 19 side who was also playing regularly in a tough competition. All good for New Zealand rugby league.
Unfortunately when the NRL took over the reigns in 1998 after the Superleague debacle there were no funds allocated for any Warriors reserve side to play in major competitions anymore. Yes we had the Lion Red Cup, a very tough national competition, and then 6 years ago the format changed to the Bartercard Cup, but was this giving our youngsters the toughness needed to play in the first grade?
For my mind, no. As much as I'd love to see it, in no time in the near future will there be a Warriors jersey playing in the NSWRL Premier League/Jersey Flegg competitions or in the Queensland Cup. The logistics and costs involved seems to dictate the negative. But why? Melbourne Storm being outside Queensland and New South Wales, were also faced with the same problem. So they did something about it. Norths Sydney Bears is now their feeder club. Norths being swallowed up by the merger with Manly in first grade, still had their lower grades competing. Now you see the likes of Scotty Hill and Ben Ross running around in a Bears jersey in Premier League causing havoc, getting set for their return to first grade.
Could the Warriors do this? We do to a certain extent but substitute the Premier League for the Bartercard Cup. The Storm thought outside the square and instead of missing out on valuable tough competition game time for their players on the roster, they have now covered that area.
We see a talented player in the Bartercard Cup competition and hear the player is in the Warriors development squad. What exactly does this mean? They train with the first grade team, then play in the Bartercard Cup competition?
We have NRL clubs coming to the country on average every second weekend. What do the Premier League sides from these clubs do while their team is in NZ? Play playstation? Why can't the reserve sides come over with their first grade companions and utilise the same physio, doctors and so forth as the top players? No doubt I'll be told, the exact same reason why the Warriors youngsters don't travel away...costs. Well maybe, just maybe, someone should start making a bit more noise.
We have Wests Tigers and Parramatta playing ' home' games in New Zealand. Part of the stipulation for allowing this should/could be that their reserve grade side also comes along and plays against the Warriors development side. Not much maybe, but certainly better than nothing.
And so this leads to New Zealand rugby league..
To my way of thinking, we have 11 main rugby league regions. Ranging from Southland right up to Northland with Auckland and Canterbury being the strongest regions. The Bartercard Cup competition deemed the National competition for New Zealand, and then each region holding their own local competitions, both male and female. The NJC competitions feature during the year, the NZRL Provincial Competitions, as do the National 7's. That to me is a quick run down on league in this country. Then of course there are the International rep sides, including Kiwi Ferns, Junior Kiwis, New Zealand A, and the Kiwis.
A pretty full roster for the NZRL I would say.
I have to question the change of the old Bartercard Cup format to what we see in 2006. There have been many rumblings amongst the local clubs regarding the Franchise areas for 2006. This is no secret to the average league follower like myself. It's no secret the clubs/players in the traditional areas in Auckland especially weren't happy. While it is good to see the inclusion of Northland amongst others to the revamped line-up, and for players from these areas to get national exposure, who in their right mind would think they could compete with the Auckland Lions, made up of the reigning Bartercard champions Mt Albert, along with the dynamic force of Marist and Richmond?
I know there has been a backlash to the new format around the Auckland clubs who see playing for their club far more important than playing for a Franchise. Hence the total prize money for the Fox Memorial being raised this year, along with other incentives to entice top players to stay with their clubs, as have their many loyal supporters. Crowd figures are a major concern I'm sure for the Bartercard Cup games, but not so for the Fox Memorial and the other Auckland competitions.
I was talking to a local from Rotorua who is involved in the league scene there and asked if she went to the Waicoa Bay game at the Rotorua Stadium that was shown on Maori television Monday 17th April. She said she didn't even know it was on until she saw the game herself on television! Where on earth was the communication to the Waicoa Bay clubs? Phone calls, promotions in the paper, on the local radio stations?
Sky television this year has stepped up the exposure of rugby league, with relative programmes/matches shown every night of the week. A great move and well done to Sky television. Maori television are top notch in their coverage. The three test series for the national Maori side against the Cook Island earlier in the year was terrific. A spine tingling haka by the two sides in the third and final match a memorable moment. The live coverage of the Monday night Bartercard Cup match is a great idea. Some outstanding talent shining through with three very relaxed commentators to boot. And Thursday night viewing on Channel 33 from 8pm to 9.30pm is a must with Ngati NRL giving us a glimpse of how the young Kiwi boys are surviving in the local Sydney competitions, followed by Code, the most down to earth sports show on television at the moment with league featuring quite regularly.
Scouts from overseas continuously are in this country eyeing up the pure and natural talent running around our league fields. I have no idea what clauses there are regarding movement payments from NZRL registered players but is there or should there be stipulations or compensations to the clubs where these youngsters are plucked from? And good on these talented players lured by the magical dollar and promises for leaving their familiar surroundings, a tough ask for any youngster.
That is the brief way I see the game of league in general. Now comes the part I'll enjoy of this challenge put before myself and Skinner. What could be done?
It's okay to jump on a rugby league forum or contact a club and have a good old whinge about anything and everything. But instead of whinging, try to better the game in any way you can and make a difference. My husband and I are farmers, 5 years ago we had 4 small children. I never in a million years thought I could make one iota of difference to anything league related living in the middle of the Bay of Plenty countryside. 5 years on I know in my small way I did, by putting in a effort. And I can hold my head proud knowing that.
The one main thing I noticed while working on Leagueunlimited was the lack of league resources available for NZ league. News seemed far and between.
My first and foremost plan of attack regarding this so called 5 year plan would be making use of the largest tool available to everyone worldwide, the Internet.
Sites like www.stuff.co.nz
are brilliant with some great articles showing up in the local papers and www.tvnz.co.nz
another good source for league related articles.
I had a look at the Warriors website, and while for a few years the site was the source of much frustration, and the brunt of many jokes over the league forums, it's nice to see the news ticking over. To me, the success of a league website is not to have 'stale' news stuck on the front page for days on end. It's also very good to see news about former Warriors players, the supporters have genuine interest in this. I feel more interaction between the official Warriors site and the NZRL site would be beneficial to both.
Which brings me to the NZRL site. A major overhaul is needed here. The site represents the whole of the New Zealand rugby league scene. Unfortunately the site falls way short on any such expectation. As mentioned earlier on, a site like rugbyleaguenz.com is succeeding because the site is providing a wealth of information for a very willing public. I would love the NZRL site have regular information on all competitions nationwide. The Southland club may have only 5 competing teams at the moment, but why shouldn't they have the national exposure? A lot of supporters of the game live in Southland.
On the NZRL site there should be space set aside for the eleven regions, like Southland, to update their local competitions. The exposure these regions would have can only help the game in their areas, the clubs and further. Of course all the regional areas would have to be committed to providing such information, delegate a person/people and keep on top of their local news to stop it from getting 'stale'. Not just game results but actual match reports. It only takes a paragraph or two. It's not hard to do, and any club that falls short of their obligation would soon look out of place, and be letting their area down.
I have to say it, the main site could learn a lot from looking at the Auckland rugby league site, which is up to date with results and so forth. Very easy to follow.
As mentioned earlier, Kiwi rugby league is on a high following the Tri Nations victory. The NZRL website should be stocked up with merchandise for the general public to snap up to remember the sweet victory, 24-0 should be plastered far and wide. The 100th anniversary Test was shown as a classic match the other night on Sky. Where are the dvds, the merchandise promoting the historic win? I clicked on the Merchandise link on the official site only to have a ' coming soon..' message appear. The photo gallery link shows the Scottwood Trust 7's from 2005. Nice photos but where are other competition photos? The Kiwis victories, at all levels, Bartercard Cup photos from earlier years, Provincial competitions, the NJC games/finals. It's certainly not hard to have photos on websites, and something the supporters enjoy.
As I said before, it is common knowledge there is tension at Penrose where the NZRL and the ARL share their offices in the same building, alongside the Vodafone Warriors. All three major influences in New Zealand rugby league. There are a lot of people working in those buildings that have an absolute passion for the game and like the average person down at a local club, do their job for the love of the game, with next to no monetary gain. There are also a lot of forward thinking people that sometimes are swallowed up by tradition, and old school ways.
Well I say to those old values, they're not working. Sure, the Bartercard Cup format this year has been changed, but for what? A lot of friction, and the game is suffering because of it. The Jets nearly didn't make the field in Round 1 this year, and the Franchise was very close to folding. Why? A lot of the Jets players were snapped up by other Franchises. Not a good start to the season.
The ARL I think touched on a proposal that would see a change around of how competitions are run throughout the year. Moving the NJC competitions to later in the year would free up these youngsters to play for their clubs in the local competitions earlier in the year, followed by the Bartercard Cup, the NZRL Provincial Competition (last year fielding 14 teams), which could then have all the available top players playing at each level. It seems simple and effective for the game of league in New Zealand, and beneficial nationwide. And for the Warriors.
And to me the last paragraph sums up the answer to this challenge I've been given. Dare I say, we should look at the way rugby union organises their year with the Super 14/NPC and club competitions. It works, pure and simple. I don't pretend to know the facts and figures and what goes on in Penrose like I've said, but maybe those who would have a say in such ideas should question their reasoning behind the negative decisions, and ask what is the best for Rugby League in New Zealand.
And like Forrest Gump would say, " That's all I have to say about that".
And I really don't think the change in the Kiwi league scene should be focused on just those at the top. As I've said, anyone and everyone in this game can make a difference. The secretary of the small local league club has to play their part. The parents with raffles and good old sausage sizzles, everyone. In this union dominated country, league people have to make a noise to be heard. Be it ringing the local radio station to say ' hey, there's a game of League on at 3pm for all interested ' or to ring the newspapers, be it the free ones, with results of the junior league competition, it takes effort and the hard work has to be put in at all levels for league to survive.
It has been widely regarded that ' New Zealand is the largest nursery for junior Rugby League players in the World ', and how right that is! We have so many players with natural ability to read and play the game, but above all, we have a culture. Something unique to the Pacific Islands, and something countries like Australia will never understand. When those Kiwis run out on Friday night, the look in their eyes will say it all. No one can ever take that away.
This challenge is how to get New Zealand players up to the NRL standard to play for the Warriors. The first step is to make sure these players want to stay in New Zealand to play for the Warriors. If there is a second New Zealand team in the NRL in 5 years, the up and coming players in New Zealand would obviously benefit substantially but at this stage there isn't and that's what I have to go on.
Which brings me to the reason behind my bleating...How to improve the NZ Warriors.
I've just touched on the culture of Kiwi players. The Warriors back in 2002 brought back to life the culture within the Warriors that had been missing for quite a few years. And boy did the other teams respect them, and fear them. Ericsson Stadium was considered a fortress and in the minds of the visiting teams, formidable to play at. So what happened, and how can we recapture the 'glory days' for want of a better word.
Two words could easily sum it up... Win games. Easy enough to say all right but not always easy to do.
The Warriors Management of 2006 have opted for an 'open door' policy. And for that they are to be commended. Especially from a supporters point of view. No more frustrations of secret goings on regarding players leaving mid season. Sure we've started on -4 this season, but at least the fans know why. A definite step in the right direction to get the club back on track. I said Bluey was like a breath of fresh air surrounding the Kiwis. The same can be said of Wayne Scurrah. He seems to have a genuine interest in the go forward to league and is very approachable. Another positive.
Bums on seats are obviously needed. 12,000 a game I've heard for the club to break even. So far not achieved in 2006. To me the season ticket holders are the backbone of the club. There needs to be a bit of loyalty there from the management. Leaving the Bulldogs game last Sunday, the thunderous cheers and clapping for the Warriors players as they left the field shows the loyalty the supporters have for the team. Unfortunately I know of quite a few diehard season ticket holders who did not renew this year, that is a real shame. In Australia away games for season ticket holders cost $8. Those making the trek down to Hamilton for the Eels game paid full price. Incentives like that to the season ticket holders can only help.
Atmosphere at Ericsson has died. Very hard when the stadium is well under half full. However the diehard fans need to be entertained so they keep coming back.It's easy to sit back and say do this, do that. And then get rubbished for trying something different. So what can be done?
The word culture comes back into mind. It has been touted around the forums, especially on www.nzwarriors.com
about using Kapa Haka groups, bringing in the Pacific feel. It's great to see the players running out through the tunnel again. And to have the drums in the background during the match. What else can be done?
Get the chants back into the games. Nick, the ground announcer could be to wind up the crowd before the players run on.
Target the midgets/juniors of the league playing clubs. Between the Bartercard game and the main match, the crowd gets right behind the little ones. Utilise it. Give a groups of free tickets to the clubs and their juniors. Bulk discounts to clubs out of the Auckland areas to get the buses traveling back to Ericsson. We want some noise at the games? Little ones will do that everytime, unconditionally. Am I right in saying the NZRL still have shares in the NZ Warriors? The clubs should benefit also.
And one major way they can benefit is by the Warriors club in general giving a little back to their supporters. It was great to hear how the whole team travelled to Wairangi Koopu's old school in Huntly when the team was down there to face the Eels.
The Warriors are expected to perform every week on the field, and to a degree off the field. Another thought, if the time frame is too hard for the players to visit schools/clubs as I have suggested, well why not invite classrooms or club teams to their training at Ericsson and then spend half an hour or so with these youngsters on the field?
This week the team have the bye due to the ANZAC test. Not many Warriors are actually playing so what are the others doing besides their training? My point being now is the perfect time for the squad not caught up in rep duties to be out and about spreading the good name of league at schools, clubs etc. And not just the players. Imagine the faces of youngsters if Ivan Cleary turned up to coach them for half an hour!
One Tribe, the Vodafone Supporters Club is also a positive. The power of the Internet as I mentioned earlier has seen their number swell to 12,000. Sure many of the supporters won't be at the games, you'd be foolhardy to think so, but the interest is there, and good luck to them. My kids enjoy going to the area and making banners, having their face painted and then have the anticipation of holding up their painted banners during the game.
We need a Warriors supporters base. I'm not just saying this because it has been on the forums but because I feel it is necessary for any business to hear the voices from their supporters. To hear what normal people want from their club, what the supporters can offer their club, to the mutual benefit of everyone, has to be a major step in the right direction. Fresh ideas selected on the forums then presented to the club by a delegation to be discussed, a great idea. And one I feel this new regime is open to. Ideas like early bird discounts on the tickets have been suggested. More people coming in early mean more people watching our players in the Bartercard Cup curtain raiser and in turn having a glimpse of what is on offer in the New Zealand league scene.
Once the Warriors are back on track regarding crowd numbers, and hopefully back to back victories, the flow on effect will be felt throughout the lesser competitions in New Zealand. Last year we saw only one rookie come through the ranks to play first grade, Simon Mannering. So far this year Patrick Ah Van and Misi Taulapapa have been called up to play in the elite level, and I expect to see a few more fresh faces throughout the year.
And on the reverse side, once the rugby league in New Zealand is structured right to benefit all competitions at all levels, the flow on effect will be felt right up to the Warriors.
5 years? Who knows but I hope it can happen.