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NRL Draft?

The winds of change are blowing through the NRL. The long talked about and much hyped Independent Commission is not too far off now, and with it comes a renewed sense of hope and vigour for the future of the game. The current arrangement has been a bit of a balancing act, and it’s time for a change. With the Commission, it is hoped that fresh ideas are bought to the table to help maximise the great product that rugby league provides. This is why I propose, along with a few other changes, that we introduce a draft system into the NRL.

The first thing you’re probably thinking is… “Wait a minute; isn’t he just pinching an idea from the AFL?” Not really. A draft (in its various forms) is commonplace in the USA, where the NBA and NFL have very high profile drafts. Back in Australia, the AFL Draft is a great feature of each year, and has proven to be a great success. I see a draft as an opportunity to improve our own game off the back of a formula which has worked for other competitions.

Firstly, we should sort out how you’d go about implementing it. I’ve come up with a system- I’m not sure whether it’s that crash hot, but let’s see if it makes any sense.

1. Pre-NYC Draft– Players are drafted at a certain age (say 18) to each club as part of their NYC side. There would be provisions for players who played SG Ball and Harold Matthews Cup for a side associated with an NRL club. When they are selected for first grade, or after they are no longer eligible to play NYC, they are added to the first grade squad. Selection order is based on the position each side finished in the previous season, with the last placed side selecting first, and so on.

2. Post-NYC Draft– Those players who aren’t selected to stay with the club can nominate to be part of this next draft. Current players can also nominate to be drafted as well, if they wish to change sides. Selection order is as above.

That’s how I’d have it. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some of the finer details, but that’s at least a rough plan. Now, how exactly would it benefit the game?

Leveling the Playing field– For as long as it’s been in place, the salary cap has aimed to make each team competitive, ensuring a tight and exciting competition. However, this hasn’t always been the case. There are always teams which, through a combination of; injury, poor form, a lack of depth in key positions, and various other reasons; find themselves near or at the bottom of the ladder. As a result of this, coaches can find themselves shown the door, the playing roster is shaken up, and the club moves onto next season, hopeful that their fortunes can turn around. Unfortunately, things don’t always go so well, and supporters begin to desert their side, sponsors don’t approach the side with the same enthusiasm… If finances were tight when times were better, when a team is in a prolonged length of poor form… You get the idea. By not spending up to the cap and few third-party deals to attract star players to the side, young players moving away in search of a side they can win a premiership with, suddenly, the future looks very bleak. It’s a vicious cycle. With the draft, a side in this situation could secure the best young talent around in the positions they feel they need to bolster. As these players mature, these sides could well find themselves with an impressive stable of players, capable of challenging for a premiership. I’m not claiming it would be an instant fix, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Expansion– If the NRL is set on expanding, the draft would allow for talent from the traditional rugby league breeding grounds to be spread to the newly established clubs. In the past, players who are perhaps past their best would form the basis of a new side- the best combination, in my opinion, would be raw talent mixed in with a handful of superstar players in their prime, with perhaps one or two very experienced players who could impart their knowledge to the newer players.

Support from fans– One area where the AFL get things very, very right is with the strong following of tomorrow’s superstars, as they rise through the ranks. You hear about the players that are likely to be selected in the first few draft picks, and what they would add to your side. As a supporter, you begin to get excited, and very much anticipate their arrival at your club. While this is also true to an extent in the NRL through the Toyota Cup, it’s not at the same level. Only the most dedicated fans of each club know who their next big names are. Generally, players make their first grade debut, and it is only then that most start to notice them. By having a draft set up, these young players lift the spirits of supporters of sides down on their luck, and allows them to monitor the progress of the players closely, which in turn would increase the overall support of each side.

At the end of the day though, the decisions made really come back to one thing- finances. I truly believe that the arguments outlined above would over time make for a more profitable competition, all the while delivering the fans with a better product. With sides being bolstered by talented youngsters, talent is spread more evenly. Over time, we likely wouldn’t have clubs in danger of shutting down. New sides would be catered for as the game expands. An increase in support from fans would perhaps lead to a greater financial support through memberships, ticket sales, merchandise and so on. Of course, this is just me simply throwing out ideas, and I’m sure there is some oversight or logistical challenge to overcome that wouldn’t make a draft viable, or it’s simply not needed. But at a time of great change in rugby league, what’s wrong with considering this?

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