Last year I wrote an article suggesting a summer rugby league competition. Some thought the idea as nuts! Many others were interested and excited about the prospect.
A summer competition played at night at iconic and exotic locations with a mix of new expansion area teams and some old classic teams like Balmain Tigers, Western Suburbs Magpies and North Sydney Bears.
The North Sydney Bears placed the article on their Facebook page with many members very excited by the prospect of their team coming back to mainstream competition.
League personalities Yvonne Sampson, Gary Jack, James Smith and Peter Beattie expressed they liked the idea via Twitter. Buzz Rothfield hated the idea stating rugby league is a winter sport full stop.
Since the original article in February this year my idea of a summer league has changed from a 13-a-side to a BBL-inspired Summer 9’s competition. I also forgot about the women. They also should have their own comp.
A mens and womens eight-team 9’s competition played at night over a 10-week period between December and February with teams based in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, PNG, the Pacific, NSW Central Coast.
Teams to be filled by recently retired and young non contracted players for mens and existing Stars of NRLW and new talent for womens.
However, the money from the current TV deal has already been allocated therefore under the current arrangements the NRL cannot fund expansion in the near future.
An alternative 9’s summer format not in competition with the NRL would allow for other free-to-air or Pay TV networks to fund expansion.
A 9’s competition would also be a cheaper way for TV networks to be involved and for new teams to enter into a professional league.
Teams would need less players per squad for a 9’s team. The competition is also over a shorter period leading to less contractual money needed to secure TV rights and for teams to field a squad.
Teams to play in the competition would need to be either brand new entities or teams not affiliated with the NRL like Balmain, Newtown or Western Suburbs in Sydney or Redcliffe, Brisbane East or Ipswich in Queensland.
The aim is to not be in competition with the NRL but to have its own identity to be an independent extension of NRL. This is my blueprint how ideally I see a summer 9’s competition.
Ideal team locations would be:
Perth – Obvious expansion location. Have a history of the Reds in the 90’s. Ready built rectangular stadium. Later TV time slot very attractive for TV networks.
The Western Force rugby team is no longer in a mainstream rugby competition opening the door for rugby league in the west. Local Businessmen have expressed interest in owning a Perth based team.
Brisbane – A second Brisbane team has been needed since the 90’s. Broncos and non-Broncos fans could follow as the team is not in direct competition with Broncos. Brisbane fans with their history of patronage deserve more than one professional team.
Both the second Brisbane team and Perth teams could be established in a 9’s format to then eventually be elevated to NRL when the new TV deal is negotiated.
PNG – They are the most fanatical fans in the world. Rugby league is their national sport. The World Cup proved they can produce a professional atmosphere and safety for teams. The PNG Hunters have achieved great success on the field in QLD Cup to be competitive.
Fiji or Tonga or a Pacific Nations team – The growth and influence of Pacific Islanders in rugby league needs to be recognised and rewarded. Having a professional team could unveil many exciting talents. How this team is represented would need to be determined perhaps a Pacific Nations combined team as a suggestion.
The game took a huge hit with Super League and its subsequent fallout. Teams and fans were turned away and have never returned. An area like NSW Central Coast deservedly needs its own team something the NRL has no appetite for but would be ideal for 9’s.
A 9’s comp could incorporate some of the old Sydney teams. North Sydney Bears playing out of Central Coast and its boutique stadium. The Jets, Magpies, Tigers or Steelers. These teams could play out of iconic Sydney Grounds like Leichhardt, North Sydney Oval and Henson Park.
By having the return of the Sydney teams you have a ready made support base. Fans of old clubs will return if they are included in a real competition.
You double up by having a woman’s competition and double headers. Imagine a full Leichhardt Oval on a balmy Summer Night BBL style Rugby League. That is the potential.
Teams and players would not be affiliated with the NRL. Meaning NRL players need an offseason and the potential for injury is far to risky to be involved.
For the competition to work it would need to be independent from the NRL and develop its own stars. You could fill teams with recently retired NRL or English Super League players, recently released players.
It also gives opportunity to players not contracted with NRL clubs playing in the NSW & QLD Cups or other competitions. Players looking for a second chance or redemption, union players wanting to switch codes like Quade Cooper.
Imagine Billy Slater or Jonathan Thurston being a marquee for a 9’s team. Rumour has it Manu Vatuvai is wanting a return to NRL. Imagine the beast running wild in 9’s.
Obviously money will be the main driving force to entice the “star” players. If a TV deal can be done then that should enable clubs to afford a marquee player or two.
The Players’ Association could assist with an agreement for a minimum contract so all players are able to earn enough to want to play and perhaps relocate for eight weeks.
I for one would love to see more womens games. This format would enable more women to participate and gives women a pathway to the NRLW which in turn enables the potential for expansion for NRLW.
Women and mens players on the fringe potentially could earn enough to become a year round professionals. It also allows them to be seen by NRL and NRLW clubs to further their careers.
For TV networks, it gives them live content. By playing all games at night and different time zones it gives them prime time programming perfect for advertising revenue.
So there you have it. A summer 9’s comp to fill in-between seasons. A competition to be inclusive bringing old teams and fans back.
It enables expansion to grow the game and set up teams to be elevated to the NRL. A pathway for players on the fringe and women to earn money to stay in the game and make rugby league a career.
Most of all 9’s is fun. A shorter format played in iconic and exotic locations. A competition giving pathways for all and for kids and families to enjoy an exciting BBL style version of the greatest game of all.
The feedback from league fans and league personalities has been very positive about this potential competition.
I would love to hear your thoughts or suggestions.