For a decade, rugby league has been getting picked on by the financial might of rugby union and AFL. It’s time for the empire to strike back.
When rugby league’s new television deals are in place, and the game is strengthened by an overdue injection of wealth because of it, I think the time is right for the code to stand and fight for the top pedestal in Australian sport.
For the last decade, rugby league has been the quiet kid in the playground, getting picked on by the financial might of rugby union and then AFL.
Both rival codes tried to ride on the back of the NRL popularity by poaching league players to pump up publicity for their own games.
The league clubs were powerless to stop their stars leaving, with the salary cap effectively tying one hand behind their backs in the scrap against the centralised contracts of the ARU and AFL.
We seem to have been the poor cousins on the Australian sporting landscape for too long.
But our massive television ratings and the financial windfall those ratings will generate should be the catalyst for a new aggressive era of self-belief in the code.
Players like rugby union’s Quade Cooper and James O’Connor should be priority targets for league because they are exciting athletes, natural footballers, but also share a genuine interest in the NRL.
The next person on my shopping list would be Brisbane Lions captain Jonathan Brown.
In my opinion, Jonathan could make the transition to rugby league, and our game should be in a position where it could make an offer that is enticing enough for an athlete of his calibre to commit to our game.
The transition would be made a lot easier if the NRL was able to identify the next Jonathan Brown at a junior AFL carnival and begin moulding him into a rugby league player.
Instead of just going to rugby league carnivals, our talent scouts now need to be going to the rugby union and AFL carnivals as well. Player development is no longer about identifying promising rugby league players. It is about identifying athletes and making them want to play rugby league.
Attracting players from other codes is a must, as is the inclusion of a fourth Queensland team in an expanded competition. Whether that fourth team is in Brisbane or central Queensland doesn’t matter.
We must have another club in Queensland working on identifying and developing young talent and giving that talent a pathway to the top level.