New pathways structure designed to ease pressure on youngsters to make NRL

The NRL will reinvest the $5 million it saves by abolishing the National Youth Competition into a new pathways structure designed to ease the pressures on youngsters attempting to break into the NRL.

The Australian Rugby League Commission has approved a new decentralised under-20s model that allows the NSWRL and the QRL to run the competitions from 2018. There will be 12 NSW-based clubs and 14 in Queensland, although there is scope for both competitions to have as many 16 each by 2022. The Northern Territory, Western Australia, Fiji, a second New Zealand team and several regional centres in NSW are among those earmarked as potential new franchises.

It was hoped that Fiji could be included in the NSW-based competition as early as next year, but the Pacific nation was unable to provide the financial commitment, underpinned by a bank guarantee, by the designated deadline. It’s hoped Fijian officials will be able to provide this in time for inclusion in 2018.

While the Intrust Super Premiership competitions will run for 24 rounds, the under-20s competition will be only 20, breaking for four weeks mid-season during the traditional school exam period. It’s hoped that break will ease the burden on players who have felt pressure to make it into the NRL before their NYC stint ends. The game has been rocked by the news several youngsters struggling to cope have taken their lives.

“There’s a lot of pressure put on kids when they are 18, 19 or 20 that if they don’t make the first-grade roster, they’re deemed as failures,” said NSW coach Laurie Daley, who moved from the country town of Junee at an early age to make his first-grade debut.

“This way you can take that pressure off them by saying you’re going from reserve grade or into the State Cup comp, where you will have an opportunity to mature and develop.

“You get another opportunity to head to the NRL path in a year or two’s time. I think it’s good.”

The NRL is in the process of negotiating an increased size for the top squad at each club, with an outcome likely in coming weeks. That, coupled with other changes will mean there will no longer be a Matt Moylan-style situation, where a youngster is ready to be brought into first grade but can’t play because his club has busted the second-tier salary cap.

“Once we determine the optimal squad size – which will be more than 25 – it will allay that because the average number of players used is 29.5 per year,” said the NRL’s head of football Brian Canavan. “That’s one less conflict area.”

The money saved from the abolition of the NYC will be handed to the NSWRL and QRL, who will reinvest it into the new pathway structure.

“It’s not a cost-cutting exercise, it’s a better allocation of our funds,” Canavan said.

“It’s decentralisation and having a more sequential development pathway.”

Salary limitations for the State Cup and State Youth Cup competitions are currently being negotiated with the Rugby League Players’ Association.

Canavan said the new system would cater for “late maturers” and make it easier for regionally based players to stay at home for longer.

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