Two new state-based competitions will be run in NSW and Queensland from 2018 as part of a new pathway program for elite NRL players.
Under the new structure, approved by the Australian Rugby League Commission, each competition will be expanded and decentralised to comprise up to 16 second tier clubs.
NRL Head of Football, Brian Canavan said all NRL clubs will be encouraged to form partnerships with two of these teams from which they will draw talent for the Telstra Premiership.
The new competitions will replace the National Youth Competition which is not regarded as the most appropriate pathway for young players. The NYC has also become costly to run and has been identified as putting undue pressure on young players coming through the ranks.
“The new model is designed to provide a clearer pathway for elite junior players aiming to play in the NRL,” Mr Canavan said.
“We have been concerned for some time about the welfare issues affecting many young players struggling to cope with the pressures of the NYC.
“This model will enable more juniors to stay at home, rather than having to move away from their families, to play Rugby League.
“And it will enable us to expand the game into regional and neighbouring overseas countries which we envisage will become part of the new State based competitions.
“It will also result in significant savings for clubs as they reduce their NYC costs and invest in the State League competitions instead.”
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said the new structure was a major step forward for the game.
“Players coming through the ranks will now have a clear, dedicated pathway to the NRL and representative football,” Mr Meninga said.
“The new model will not only help to expand the game both in Australia and overseas but it will provide better protection for young players at risk of developing welfare issues and being forced out of the game.
“So I can see the revised structure leading to better quality football on the field and a better support system for our young players off the field.”
Under the proposed new model:
• The NRL is working with the RLPA to increase the number of players that clubs can include in their full time squad. Those who fail to make the final NRL squad will return to play in the State Cup
• Salary limitations for State Cup and the State Youth Cup are also being discussed with the RLPA
Mr Canavan said working conditions regarding young players are still subject to negotiation with the RLPA.
“The RLPA has been involved in these discussions which commenced well before the negotiation of the new CBA and we will continue to work to secure their agreement of the new model.”
Mr Canavan said the new model would encourage clubs to develop junior players from their affiliated State Cup team – rather than simply recruiting them from other areas. It will also better cater for “later maturers” than the current system.
“The States will continue to operate their traditional junior competitions and State based Under 20s competitions,” Mr Canavan said.
“But players from New Zealand and country regions will be able to stay in the game without having to leave home.
“We believe this is the best way to expand the game in the short term – and create a sustainable competition structure for the long term.”