Here is a shopping list for Rugby Australia and no NRL players

It has to be a record. Even three days after Australia was announced as hosting not one but two Rugby World Cups, the discussion turned to NRL talent that could spread cash for the 2027 edition of Australian Rugby.

Perhaps Rugby Australia got caught up in the media when it got into controversy last week. However, it really shouldn’t have been given two decades ago.

For those who may remember very young, the Governing Body at home at the 2003 Rugby World Cup campaigned for the most marketable figures in Australia’s influential rugby code. Within a few years the looted players had fled from where they had come from.

Meanwhile, Australia’s neglected Scrum was a laughing stock, cultural issues plagued the team and the Wallabies were in the midst of a two-decade recession.

You might think that investing in Rugby Australia’s huge NRL talent has paid off, a huge waste of money or a bit of both. However, it should have been clear that for many committed players and supporters who have been supporting rugby in a short period of time, this was a sensitive issue. Definitely a wise approach to avoid this within a week which should have been reserved for celebrating the winning RWC bid.

Still, the prospect of some financial breathing, courtesy of the golden decade of rugby – a British and Irish Lions tour in 2025, the Brisbane Olympics in 2032 and two RWCs in it – are certainly welcome. Even after paying off heavy debts and hiding something wise for a rainy day, there should be money to spend, but what?

Michael Hooper (R) and Shannon Parry (L) pose for a photo in front of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, illuminated in support of the Rugby Australia 2027 and 2029 Rugby World Cup bids on May 12, 2022 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Brett Hemings / Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

(Photo by Brett Hemings / Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

Get started

A common concern in recent years has been the failure to engage with public schools and the increasing competition for heart and mind in traditional rugby schools. The student population change means Sydney Boys High School’s once-great rugby powerhouse has not produced a wallaby since Chris Whitaker in the 1990s, when Queensland rugby castle Nudgee College formed an alliance with a new NRL club.

Of course things can sometimes be as deadly as they sound. The production line at Brisbane State High continues to shake up the international quality of Samu Kerevi and Charlotte Caslik, and there are exciting stories of rugby breaking new ground.

Who can forget Geoff Parks article Roar What about Mr. Orange’s rugby program at Fountain Gate Secondary College in Melbourne? What is not in question is that every child should have the opportunity to experience rugby – especially the easily accessible children, as they may need rugby the most – and Australia’s top clubs, super squads and national teams need their best.

Investing in initiatives that involve unconventional rugby schools, reviving rugby in vulnerable forts, and optimizing successful schools and junior programs should be a priority.

Samu Kerevi pauses

(Photo by Chris Hyde / Getty Images)

Girls, girls, girls!

In a difficult decade for rugby in Australia, the 2015 RWC final sparked a flurry of frustration for the Wallachians. However, the brightest light was our champion women’s rugby sevens team, which won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Women’s rugby is booming in Australia, but there is an idea that it could explode with a little more investment. After a setback at the Tokyo Olympics, the player’s renewal saw the Seven Women’s World Series champions win the crown this season, an achievement that deserves much more praise than it deserves.

There is no reason to think that the Super W team and the Wallars cannot make the same progress with more time for original and improved skills. The actual quasi-professional program with strength and conditioning and health and medical support to compete with the men’s programs – with plans to move towards full professionalism by 2029 – is a reasonable expectation.

For those who dislike women’s rugby, you are welcome to stay in the last century while the rest of us embrace the exciting opportunities that come with fully integrating women into our sport.

Wallace's Ilyseva Batibasaga is confronted during the Women's International Test match between Australia Wallarus and Fijiana on May 06, 2022 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia.  (Photo by Matt Roberts / Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt Roberts / Getty Images)

That’s right

The confirmation of the program in Australia, which will see a team participate in the Pacific Nations Cup in July, came at a time when this part was working – a great time and a great initiative.

In the past, for those on the verge of choosing Wallaby, after the conclusion of Super Rugby, the options were limited to Club Rugby or a short-term contract abroad. While many welcome the opportunity to reconnect with their clubs, it is not ideal to develop players like Andy Moorehead, Felletti Kaitou or Will Harris if they are left out of the Wallabis squad.

The program in Australia also gives coaches encouragement and elite opportunities. However, Rugby Australia will have to campaign for Piggy Bank to establish the A program in the long run, to ensure that the facility continues. While they’re at it, why not explore the possibility of a more significant and structured program for our super rugby teams?

Irregular injuries this season, especially in the Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds, have revealed the lack of depth in our squad. A program that helps squad members move forward with confidence may be missing links that help the Australian Super Rugby team become more consistently competitive.

Even more super

Super AU was the little gem that carried the epidemic and proved to be an amazing hit. Who can forget the 40,000 screaming spectators in Balimore for the 2021 Vintage Final? In the absence of the eight-team National Rugby Championship (NRC) – which suffered from a lack of support, tribalism and marketing – Rugby Australia could do worse than invest in the Super Rugby AU tournament this year as a prelude to the Super Rugby Pacific.

This will give access to existing teams of Super Rugby players with the opportunity to draft aspiring club stars for a closer look. The support base is also built-in, which overcomes a major flaw in the NRC.

Will the provincial coaches be ready to start the pre-season to accommodate Super Rugby AU as a reward for all the hours of sweating through gym sessions and field drills? This will certainly provide more meaningful play time, give players a chance to shine while the Wallabies will be away on a spring tour and will give the last taste of rugby nut nirvana before the start of the long, empty week of summer.

Sharing stories

Rugby Australia’s marketing pigeons have been busy late. From the start of the England series to the confirmation of a bracket for the Rugby World Cup and the re-signing of players, there is no shortage of good news. As a result, the mood in rugby in and around Australia has improved dramatically.

But there is still something missing. Much of the activity has revolved around the ‘key’, but there is still a gap in the ‘why’, especially the ‘why everyone should care’.

What many of us want to see is a vision for the future, a picture of what the Australian rugby landscape might look like in ten, 20 or even 50 years. For me, arbitrarily moving to other codes is tedious, tedious, and completely unnecessary.

Is it hopefully idealistic to believe that Australian rugby just has to be its best version? If that means rugby is enriched as an exciting and welcoming boutique game, all is well and good. Small can be beautiful.

Our game has a fascinating story to share with or without RWC about the unique qualities of those who play it and its international profile. Often those stories do not resonate as they should. Expert media and communications can identify the narratives that will bring Australian rugby vision to life for today’s rugby fans and, most importantly, for those who are still coming.

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