OPINION: The beginning of the end for Grassroots Rugby League in Australia?

Rugby League mistake

The Australian Open has just finished, which means rugby league season is about to begin in Australia as junior teams return to training this week.

Commencing this year, the NRL will be rolling out their new rules for Grassroots Rugby League, and it will be the biggest overhaul that the game has seen since the beginning of mini and mod football over thirty years ago.

It still hasn’t been confirmed if it will be rolled out nationally. At present it has been trialled out in different regions throughout Queensland in 2019.

I’ve had the opportunity to read the changes that are being proposed and will most likely be signed off by the ARLC.

I’ve been left unimpressed with the changes as I know on a personal level it will be the death of the game, especially in our stronghold areas – for example Western Sydney (Penrith, Parramatta and Campbelltown).

I can hear you all asking what are these changes?

Let me tell you briefly what they are and how each age group will be affected by these changes.

Under 6-7 age groups:
• League tag competition (no tackling allowed)
• 10-week season (no finals)
• One training session a week (max 60-minute session)
• Maximum 2 games per week
• When the children are 7-years-old, they will be allowed to commence the ‘Tackle Safe Program’ but will still need to play tag until they go into the under 8s.

Under 8-9 age groups:
• Development competition
• 12-week season (no finals)
• One training session a week (max 60-minute session)
• Maximum 2 games per week

Under 10, 11 and 12 age groups:
• Development competition
• 12-week season (no finals)
• Two training sessions (max 75 minutes per week)
• Maximum 2 games per week

Under 13 – 14 age groups:
• Junior premiership competition
• 12 to 16-week season (plus grand final 1 v 2)
• Two training sessions (max 75 minutes per week)
• Maximum 1 game per week

Under 15 age group:
• Premiership competition
• 12 to 16 week (plus final series)
• Two training sessions (max 90 minutes per week)
• Maximum 1 game per week

Under 16, 17 and 18 age groups:
• Premiership competition
• 12 to 16 week (plus final series)
• Two to Three training sessions (max 90 minutes per week)
• Maximum 1 game per week

Above, I’ve briefly outlined the important rule changes to the game and to read them it doesn’t seem that bad. Let me break it down for you on how this will have big ramifications on the game as a whole.

1) Limiting how many games a player can play a week. I understand that there is a big push for player welfare in our game and does the game need it? In parts I’ll say yes and in other parts I’ll say no it doesn’t.

Especially when it comes to children, as we all know kids can run around all day every day and play that many different sports away from rugby league.

Also, by limiting the number of games a player can play a week you will be potentially taking money away from the junior clubs that normally hold annual gala days, and these gala days are normally what pay for the end of season presentations for these clubs (making a decent profit). Will the NRL help these clubs out financially to make up the loss of money?

Let’s include schoolboy rugby league into this topic. Reason being the players will need to decide what’s more important for them: a) Club rugby league on the weekend or, b) School rugby league? Over the year’s kids have always wanted the opportunity to represent not just their schools, but their zone, region, state and, if good enough, Australian Schoolboys.

How will these teams get selected if the players can only play one game a week? Will this be the death of the Australian Schoolboys?

2) Tag rugby league isn’t rugby league. If parents wanted their children to play tag rugby league, they would sign them up to play OZ Tag.

Children need to be tackling and getting tackled from a young age. It will help with their development and the conditioning of their bodies, which will inturn limit the risk of injury.

While we are on the topic of conditioning their bodies, why have the NRL limited training sessions to once a week?

I’ve been approached by quite a few parents over the last month asking is it worth putting my child in rugby league if it’s going to be tag? I’ve told them to still sign their child up to play, because the rules are yet to be rolled out nationally and you don’t want your child to miss out playing with their friends.

I just hope that the governing body allows each district to make their own minds up on where and what type of rugby league they want their kids to play as it’s not fair, and it will kill the game at a grassroots level.

*Credit: Kristy McVay Photographer

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[…] Junior rugby league is back in the spotlight after my article the other day titled “Beginning of the end for Grassroots Rugby League in Australia” which was published on 6th February. […]