What should be a time of celebration for a young footballer has turned into an instance of frustration and disappointment.

15-year-old Ned Chapman's pathway to achieving his NRL dream via the Harold Matthews (under 16s) Cup has hit a roadblock to the tune of a little known $5000 payment.

Chapman has played the last two years of his young and promising career playing rep in Group 21 of the Country Rugby League.

Whereas 14 of the 21 CRL groups currently have pathways to NRL clubs for juniors like Ned, unfortunately for him and his supportive family, his group does not.

Ned recently won selection at an open trial to represent the North Sydney Bears in their Harold Mats team.

Having earned an opportunity to ply his young trade for one of the game's foundation clubs, Ned and his family should be head over heels with excitement.

Instead, the pathway to Ned's dream has been blocked by the CRL's instance that North Sydney pay a $5000 'national development fee'. This is to be distributed 80% to the junior player's local club with the remaining 20% to the club's group.

This development fee was recently increased from $2000.

Understandably the Bears have opted not to pay the $5000 fee given that the Denman Devil junior will only be playing eight games of footy.

The Bears can very easily opt for a local kid, who may not be as talented, for no cost at all.

Therefore after first trialling for Norths in September 2018, and having survived six squad cuts to be named in the final team, Ned will miss out due to red tape.

Equally understandably, the youngster is crushed.

"I just want to play footy at the highest level I can and in under 16s, that's Harold Mats. I've trained hard and learned heaps of new techniques. I got my spot at the Bears because I earned it all on my own and now I just want to play footy."

A further three youngsters have also been cut from their squad due to the disproportionate fee.

The efforts of Ned's family also add to the frustration of the situation given that they undertook a three hour round trip two to three times every week to enable the prospect to train in Sydney.

Ned and his family decided to sign with the Bears despite other offers due to the professionalism of the club and the opportunities to learn and develop on and off the field.

In December the Bears alerted the family of the $2000 fee, only for a $5000 fee to be tacked on when the registration papers were forwarded.

Ned, after playing all the trials for his new club, was even named in the Bears run on squad before appeals from the family to the CRL were turned down.

The Bears, to their credit, have offered to keep young Ned on with the squad for training and to keep him in the system, but unless the $5000 fee is paid, he will be unable to play.

This came after the club did everything within their power to have the fee waived.

The RL players association even tried to intervene to no avail.

Group 21 also offered support but the CRL refused their offer as it wasn't extended to Group 4 and 19 and they didn't want to split the region.

The Knights also offered pathways to Group 21 members but again were turned down as the CRL wouldn't split the region.

So instead of a youngster running out on the weekend as a result of his hard and dedication, he will be sitting on the sidelines watching on due to farcical circumstances.

I had no idea of the existence of the fee. At $2000 you can make an argument for it rewarding the development of players outside of the larger city areas but at $5000 it is highway robbery.

Group 21 players now face the very real prospect of being overlooked for trials based on cost-saving measures.

At 15, a $5000 investment, especially for clubs without NRL commercial opportunities, is a big risk.

That said, it's hard to stomach the idea that the game's next superstar may be turned away from the game due to a very real roadblock.

There are plenty of talented 15-year-old kids out there running around with hopes of fulfilling their NRL dream however to think that a large group will not be able to progress, through no fault of their own, doesn't look great.

Ned's fellow Mats teammates went to their coach to seek permission to start a fundraising page to enable their mate to enjoy the opportunity his hard work and talent had earned him.

For a game that relies on players and fans in the country, this seems a large hurdle for young players and their potential clubs to clear due entirely to where the player was brought up and plays the game.

We'll reach out to the CRL for comment.


  1. This fee has been around for a long time. I’m pretty sure it was $2.5k back in the early 2000s so no doubt it has increased over the years. While I sympathise with the young man and his family, teams do have costs in developing you players and these have to be covered. Insurance is the first big one I think of. The kids have to be kitted out, have access to doctor and physio. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cost clubs nothing, like everyone else, they have to pay. But my understanding is that this fee is also shared with the kid’s previous club to cover development costs there too.
    Maybe his parents might consider borrowing the money to invest in his future, if that’s his chosen career path in life, like many of us have had to do to help our kids through Uni and TAFE.

  2. Maybe next time negotiations are up for players, a smaller increase could be given so money flows to grass roots preventing this situation. It is for the future of the game. In NZ I have just read about massive reduction of numbers playing union. Not enough is being done so in 5-10 years a huge amount of money and resource will have to be directed to save us from a big fall from the top.

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