I felt like it’s the right time to discuss the Future of Rugby League with the brains trust here. I know there will be a wide range of opinions about this subject, there will be those who will be traditionalist and want to preserve the way Rugby League has been played, and those who would want to see change for a variety of reasons.
But I would like to highlight some observations I have made and my take on them.
On August 13, 2013 the NRL formed a partnership with Touch Football Australia forming one of the largest sporting communites in Australia. It led to the formation of the NRL Touch Premiership and opened up exciting new pathways for young players.
The growth of Rugby League Pathways have been slow but steady. In most states Rugby League Pathway participation has been rising and there has been movement between Touch Football and Rugby League as I believe it lowers the barrier to entry for kids. Implementing of Mod-League has also had it’s impact on growth.
The reality of this growth and merging of pathways has a side effect, in that the desire to play a sport on the big stage that more reflects the game they play in development will mean that the game will change with that to bring talent through the system. We have seen that the sport has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, new rules, exclusions of tackling techniques and contact. This will likely continue in the future which brings me to my last point.
There are now lawsuits that have emerged as a result of these studies. A class action of 4,500 NFL Players against the National football League resulted in a $765m settlement.
Australia is not immune to such legal action. The AFL have been hit with a class action lawsuit consisting of 60 players seeking up to $120m for pain, suffering, financial loss and medical expenses due to their injuries. Some in the media have speculated that it is a matter of time before the NRL is hit with a similar lawsuit. The RFL (Super League UK) are already dealing with a lawsuit of 100 players. Lawyers are already seeking players to be involved in a class action against the NRL.
This has a financial cost, but will also lead to these leagues changing the way the game is played to avoid lawsuits in the future, this will include changes to injury protocol and how contact is made in matches. The would want to be seen as doing all in their power to prevent further occurrences of CTE in their respective sports.
Regardless of what we think, change will happen, maybe sooner than later. It seems that Rugby League in Australia has got it’s pieces in the right place with the streamlining of pathways and the right components in board for young players coming through the grades.
So how will Rugby League look in the future? How SHOULD Rugby League look in the future. How do guarantee the wellbeing of players as well as honouring the core of Rugby League. I don’t think this is a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” situation, but change is inevitable.
So I throw it to you to discuss. What’s your thoughts, is this something you think needs to happen, or do you think people just need to “drink a mug of concrete” and stick to tradition?
Looking forward to your responses.
I’ll add some raw data for participation rates in the following post.