A Group 9 player and club survey has offered competition organisers rare insight into their product, including overall participation trends, player happiness around season structure and length and the ongoing debate around the introduction of a women’s tackle competition.
Certainly, the most pleasing statistic coming out of the survey was the bounce back of registered players in 2021, after a significant drop in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Registered player numbers (974) almost match 2019 figures (996) and are well up on 2020 figures (769) with more men registered to play this season compared to both previous years, while there was a slight dip in the women’s numbers.
Additionally, the number of 16 to 18-year-old players (305) is the highest it has been since 2017 and is well up on 2019 (259) and 2020 (242) figures.
Group 9 Chairman Andrew Hinchcliffe said it was a good result and it proves rugby league is alive and well in the Riverina.
“I was really pleased to see those numbers bounce back after the Covid impact of last year,” Hinchcliffe said.
“It reassures us there is plenty of interest in rugby league going forward.”
As far as player feedback, over 270 participants cast their opinion, with 213 men and 59 women taking part in the survey.
Interestingly, there was an overwhelming response to playing on Saturdays with 80.3% of men and 76.3% of women voting this way, while the other options of Sundays, Friday nights and other days polled poorly.
“There were no surprises there, we know that players like Saturday games and it does enable that social side of football,” Hinchcliffe said.
There wouldn’t be any radical changes to next season’s draw though, with Hinchcliffe explaining that he was comfortable with the current mix of Saturday and Sunday games, although he did want to see more alignment with junior football.
“We are equally comfortable having a good split at the moment and clubs can play on Saturday and Sunday,” Hinchcliffe said.
“However, we do see some opportunity for senior clubs to work more closely with junior clubs and we hope that senior clubs can have alignment with draws in 2022 to enable those gala days that are so well supported by the community.”
In arguably the biggest surprise arriving from the player survey, there was a preference for a longer competition that accommodated a home and away draw.
58.2% of men and 64.9% of women voted for 16 or more weeks, while a 14-round competition was the second most preferred option for players, polling 23.9% with men and 21.1% with women.
There was also 14.6% of men and 14% of women that preferred a 12-round competition, hinting that competition organisers won’t be hearing the end of this hot topic anytime soon.
“That one was a particular surprise,” Hinchcliffe said.
“I expected to see the support for a shorter season, and seeing those numbers, it gives us a bit of flexibility.
“It certainly offers a different perspective, and for the mean time, we will probably look at continuing the full home and away draw.”
The question of travel was open to interpretation, with men seemingly more willing to travel, with 38% voting that 150km to 200km is their preferred longest trip, polling just ahead of 100km to 150km (31%) and 200+km (16.4%).
For women, 40.7% polled that 100km to 150km is the furthest trip they would want to make, which was well ahead of 150km-200km and 200+km that both polled 22%.
“Look, the travel question highlighted that people value their time, and the other thing the results probably reinforce is that everyone is comfortable with the way Group 9 and borders are structured at the moment,” Hinchcliffe said.
The topic of women’s tackle was also raised, with mixed results offered.
52.5% of women voted against the introduction of a women’s tackle competition, although 47.5% were in favour of it, and Hinchcliffe saw the positives for both sides of the argument.
“Ladies tackle is reasonably well supported and we know there are opportunities in this space but at the moment, there is just as much support, if not more, for leaguetag and we don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Hinchcliffe said.
There was also a question on culture, with answers suggesting that most players were happy with their clubs.
46% of men rated their club’s culture as a 10 out of 10, while 37.1% voted between 7 and 9.
For women, 37.9% voted that their club’s culture was at an 8 out of 10, while 32.8% voted 10.
All-in-all, Hinchcliffe was happy with the results, along with the data supplied by NSWRL, and he believed it would hold the competition organisers in good stead when considering future changes.
“There were three aspects to the data we received. and from our end, the competition is being well-received,” Hinchcliffe said.
“We had data presented from NSWRL, the club survey and player survey and we feel it has given us a good understanding of what everyone wants.
“Now we have some conviction when going forward and prioritising what’s important and it gives us additional clarity.”
Group 9 will continue working through the data, with general comments from both surveys still to be collated before being reported to clubs and players.