The Covid-19 pandemic has asked a lot of questions of the Riverina’s premier sports competition in recent times, including the viability of paying exorbitant amounts of money to attract marquee signings.
In recent years, a team’s success has very much been built around key marquee signings, generally mixed in with a good base of juniors, similar to that of Tumut, Southcity and Gundagai in recent seasons.
With clubs and pubs currently closed and financially impacted by Covid-19, questions have arisen over the future sponsorship of every Group 9 club.
Group 9 chairman Peter McDermott believes the current situation could allow for one or two teams to really thrive, while it could spell trouble for the remaining teams.
“It’s a hard situation to find the answer for, in fact it’s nearly impossible, I don’t know how much money these clubs have,” McDermott said.
“I assume some clubs will have more money put away than others, but I also assume some clubs will be impacted much worse than others because they are reliant on pubs and clubs to be their major sponsors.
“There could be a real difference in what teams can spend.”
According to McDermott, one way to fix the issue of one or two teams potentially dominating the market and signing more marquee players than other clubs is to employ a points system, one that would grade players based on their previous representative experience.
A club would then be given a certain amount of points to spend, and would be rewarded for signing locals and players who have been in the competition for a long time, while they would be penalised for big money signings of ex-NRL or overseas players.
In fact, Group 9 was on the precipice of a introducing a points system prior to the NSWRL takeover of Country Rugby League in 2019.
“We were pushing the points system big time and we had nearly had it with the CRL and we were ready to introduce the idea to the clubs,” McDermott said.
“It was proposed that there would be so many points per team, each player would be allocated points and a team would need to sign players that fitted into their points allocation.”
Despite the points system not coming to fruition after the NSWRL takeover, McDermott hinted a similar system is still on the cards for Group 9.
“NSWRL is basically going to come up with a model that will be used right across the state,” McDermott said.
“That’s what they are telling us, they wanted to see the ways other competitions had incorporated points systems and they said it would take about 18 months, but to be honest, I would like to see it implemented sooner, especially with everything going on.
Group 9 director Andrew Hinchcliffe was also of the belief that the current pandemic could act as a catalyst for change and is hoping it sets a realistic expectation of what players should be paid going forward.
“I understand that clubs are financially driven at the moment but with the impending uncertainly about gate takings and crowds, there might be an opportunity for clubs to be more community aligned,” Hinchcliffe said.
“We could reset the expectation around player payments so to speak.”
Hinchcliffe wanted to remind clubs that now is the perfect time to revaluate their squads and contracts and touch base with playing groups.
This would give Group 9 teams a chance to determine what teams they could actually field when a competition gets off the ground and how much they are willing to spend.
“We are hoping clubs are talking to players and working out what teams they can put forward and considering how player payments will be impacted this year and the years following on,” Hinchcliffe said.
Blues skipper Dean Bristow agreed that the idea of a points or salary cap system had merit but didn’t think it would be successful in Group 9.
The premiership-winning captain indicated that Group 9 wasn’t on the agenda of marquee players and that big cash payments was the main thing attracting the top talent.
“In marquee competitions like Newcastle, it is a hell of a lot easier to attract players,” Bristow said.
“Those competitions have players knocking on the door to play, but it isn’t like that out here.
“When I started coaching, it was really hard to get marquee players and the only thing that can get those players here sometimes can be the big cash.”
Bristow said that if a points system were in place in 2017, the Tumut Blues would have struggled to field a first grade side.
“Back in 2017 at the start of the year, we had six local players that had the potential to play first grade,” Bristow said.
“If you had put a points cap on like that back then, we wouldn’t have had a team and we might not be playing this year.”
The Blues custodian was also worried how a move to implement a points system could impact smaller clubs that struggle to regularly field a competitive reserve grade side.
“I don’t think it is really feasible down here. You don’t want to go out and spend the cash but sometimes you have to spend the cash to fill a team,” Bristow said.
“Some clubs go through periods and struggle to field two teams, it is all good to try and level the playing field but they need to consider the demographics.
“We are in rural towns and we don’t have the big numbers playing rugby league anymore.”