NRL ball dropped as rivals swoop
IPSWICH could lose its army of thousands of rugby league volunteers if the Brisbane Lions move their training base to Springfield.
That is the warning from Ipswich Jets and Western Corridor NRL bid chairman Steve Johnson in the wake of news that the Lions, in conjunction with AFL, have targeted the Western Corridor as a strategic base to grow the game.
The Australian Rugby League Commission drove a stake into the heart of the Western Corridor NRL bid by putting NRL expansion on hold until at least 2017.
That decision has played into the hands of the AFL who are targeting Ipswich as the next area of growth for their game.
"My biggest fear is that we will lose our army of volunteers that we have in our game," Johnson said.
"The big problem for rugby league is if AFL gets the young players from the age of seven to 13.
"They may then later work out that their body shapes are best suited for rugby league, but it is the parents that will stay behind in Aussie Rules.
"Rita Langer is still going to Norths Juniors (Rugby League Club) cooking chips on Saturday morning 35 years after Allan played there.
"Parents form friendships when they work as volunteers and even if their kids leave, they often stay behind.
"I've seen this happen all the time when kids play.
"If you lose that army of volunteers, you lose the lifeblood of your game that keeps it going.
"It is getting harder and harder to get parents actively involved in sport.
"If you cut the bare minimum in half now, then you are in real trouble.
"Then you don't have enough people to run your competitions."
Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale has also criticised the Australian Rugby League Commission's decision, saying that the NRL will be the poorer for the decision to delay expansion.
"The NRL has stuffed it up," he said.
"They made a commitment to expand. We put a lot of work into it and now they are saying that they can't expand because of the TV rights.
"Give me a break. They might be going on hold for four years but the rest of the codes are not going to go on hold.
"The NRL have made a terrible mistake because the other codes are going to zoom past them in terms of basing themselves out here and getting support in the western corridor."
Johnson said he was confident that even if the Lions based themselves at Springfield, a future Western Corridor NRL side could share training facilities as is the case in Melbourne with league and other codes.
"It works fine in Melbourne with the Demons, Storm and the A-League all sharing the same facility at AAMI Park," he said.
"That central training facility can easily be shared and the ground they are looking at in Springfield has room for a couple of ovals on it."