BEHIND THE DESK: Is rugby league losing its appeal?
COVID-19 has forced a shift in the sporting landscape this year.
Some changes have been good, while others have been more damaging with the potential to cause a big shake-up to winter sport in the Clarence Valley.
Rugby league has been on the wrong side of the pandemic with the region’s top sides all going without senior footy in 2020.
Grafton Ghosts, South Grafton Rebels and Lower Clarence Magpies opted out of Group 2 and Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competitions over recent weeks, leaving a big hole in the sports community.
But all is not lost, as rival winter codes such as Aussie rules and football have shown signs of growth this season.
Group 1 junior rugby league is still set to return on July 17 which will help reignite a passion for what is arguably the state’s biggest sport, but I fear the impact may be harmful to the sport in the future.
While not dissimilar to AFL in the region, there is a limited pathway for progression in rugby league with under-18s, reserve grade, ladies league tag and first grade sides that can fill up pretty quickly.
Compare that to football where there are multiple divisions and multiple age grades for both men and women to keep playing as long as they desire.
Rugby league isn’t as much of a social sport around here, with players often being paid to play in the senior grades. This is obviously a great opportunity, but it can also put a lot of pressure on the juniors to impress and earn their spot in the senior teams.
It’s not uncommon for juniors to convert to rugby union, which provides more opportunity with Far North Coast first grade and reserve competitions as well as women’s sevens and the President’s Cup.
I’m not saying rugby league will be knocked off its perch any time soon but without another division or pathway for players sitting below the top level, I think they will struggle to show growth in the junior ranks moving forward.
Without senior footy this season, lets hope NSW Rugby League and associated competitions can take the time to look to the future and build for a bigger and better year in 2021.