THIS weekend’s 2014 NSW Country Championships have been made all the more interesting after the official announcement of the National Rugby Championship on Monday afternoon.
Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive Bill Pulver confirmed months of speculation on Monday when he announced NSW Country will take part in the second-tier competition.
More waves were created among the Central West Rugby community when James Grant, general manager of NSW Country, announced there is room in the 33-man squad for upward of 10 rural-based players.
Originally it was thought the NSW Country team would be made up wholly of city-based country-origin players, like current Super Rugby stars Ben McCalman and Beau Robinson.
Grant, however, has given the country’s elite players hope of turning their passion into a career.
“From a player’s point of view, there is pathway in place now,” he said.
“Legitimate country players now have a pathway to enter the next level, or even Super Rugby eventually. We don’t have an exact number, but we’d like to have between four and eight legitimate country players in the squad, and they’ll all be on show this weekend at country week (NSW Country Championships).
“Who knows though, there could be room for upward of 15 or 20 people we want to work with. We’re hoping country week might unearth some new talent, but the guys who have performed consistently over the last couple of years will definitely be under the microscope.”
"We’re hoping country week might unearth some new talent, but the guys who have performed consistently over the last couple of years will definitely be under the microscope"
The central west is certain to host a number of NSW Country’s home games, with Orange and Dubbo the front-runners to host.
“Orange and Dubbo always get behind all our rugby programs, and have shown interest in getting on board for this,” he said.
“Along with places like Mudgee, Lismore, Tamworth, Moree, Armidale and Newcastle, we’ve had plenty of interest. We just need to make sure we select the right places to host, to ensure we engage everyone. We’re really looking at engaging the country rugby community, so they have a link to top class rugby in Australia.”
Shute Shield teams Eastern Suburbs and Randwick will have a direct link with NSW Country, which will be based out of Sydney’s Moore Park, and will seemingly play the role of a feeder club.
“Easts and Randwick weren’t ready to throw a team in yet,” Grant explained.
“They came and saw us and we’re happy to accommodate them, and have them on board. The vision of NSW Country remains, and the two clubs are throwing themselves behind that.”
Kicking off at the conclusion of each state’s premier rugby competitions, the NRC is the equivalent of New Zealand’s ITM Cup and will be the highest domestic level competition in the country.
Played as a second tier to Australia’s four Super Rugby franchises, stipulations are in place to ensure Super Rugby players play in the NRC, spread across the teams via a quota system.
Wallabies players will be on test duty during the NRC, but will be allocated to teams, and available for selection if they aren’t needed for national duty.
NSW Country will compete against Brisbane City, Queensland Country, North Harbour Rays, Sydney Stars, Greater Sydney Rams, University of Canberra Vikings and Melbourne Rising in eight preliminary rounds.
These will be followed by semi-finals and a grand final.