‘GPS have clinched the Australian club rugby championship with a magnificent fightback against the fancied Sydney Uni, clawing back from a 17-point deficit in the second half.’
So read the opening paragraph of a report on rugby.com.au last March as the Queenslanders saw off the challenge of NSW Champions Sydney University to be crowned ‘Australian Club Champions’.
It’s unarguable that GPS are a quality side and deserve the mantle, but wouldn’t it be great if one of our own, our club rugby Champions from the Griffin Legal John I Dent Cup, were given a chance to compete and claim the title?
Canberra Royals and Tuggeranong Vikings, winners of the local competition in the past two seasons, would surely have given GPS or Sydney University a run for their money.
But why stop there? The Dewar Shield Champions from Victoria could be invited to the party. For example, Melbourne RFC who are favourites for the Shield would be a worthy opponent for any of the aforementioned club-sides and, there’s the potential for further expansion with the winners of the other State and territories in Australia being given a shot.
The FFA, the guardians of the round-ball code in Australia, currently have a similar competition in progress where the league champions, those who finish top of the respective round-robin from NSW, ACT, Queensland, Northern NSW, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia meet in a free-draw knockout finals series.
The Quarter Finals is drawn randomly whilst the hosts for the semi-finals are determined via a formula relating to time of winning (normal time, extra time or penalties), goals scored and allowed, and yellow/red cards. This competition, in its infancy, has yet to catch the imagination as much as the FFA Cup, but allows local players to shine on the national stage.
Costs, of course, would need to be taken into consideration, but there must be a sponsor out there who would like the opportunity to promote their brand nationally, opening the doors of their business to prospective new customers by sponsoring the naming rights of something that is unique and would tap into the spirit of grassroots rugby, club-land, where the badge on your jersey is the be-all and end-all.
Format would be key, perhaps there would be a dispensation into the latter stages for the ‘big boys’ from New South Wales and Queensland, straight to the semi-finals, the other teams playing a series of matches depending on respective strengths of the unions to fill the remaining two spots. That way any major miss-matches could be avoided.
All of this, and potentially broadcast nationally via Fox Sports and their subsidiaries, even rugby.com.au might be keen to show fixtures, and getting free-to-air coverage would be crucial, could bring yet more attention to the burgeoning club game, bring interest in the sport and, just maybe, give a reinvigoration to the rugby fan and encourage them to visit their local Super Rugby club.
At the moment it’s all pie in the sky. The costs for the Club Championships as it was run in 2018 were funded by the two competing teams. That shouldn’t have to happen. To promote the sport and expand its horizons beyond the often-myopic interest of each state, something that is different, accessible and with the potential to offer intrigue, and the exotic and unknown, is surely worth exploring further. With the NRC in need of re-vamp, is club rugby, and a national’s finals series the way ahead?
POTENTIAL AUSTRALIAN CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFIERS
Based on the respective ladders of each State and Territory at the time of publication
VICTORIA: Melbourne RFC
NSW: Sydney University
ACT: Tuggeranong Vikings
WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Palmyra
SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Brighton RUFC
TASMANIA: Devonport Bulls
NORTHERN TERRITORY: South Darwin
POTENTIAL AUSTRALIAN CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP DRAW
Match 1: Western Australia [Palmyra] v Tasmania [Devonport Bulls]
Match 2: Northern Territory [South Darwin] v South Australia [Brighton RUFC]
Week 2 – home advantage to be decided via draw
Match 3: Western Australia/Tasmania [Palmyra/Devonport Bulls] v ACT [Tuggeranong Vikings]
Match 4: Northern Territory/South Australia [South Darwin/Brighton RUFC] v Victoria [Melbourne RFC]
Week 3 – home advantage to be decided via draw
Match 5: Winner of Match 3 v Queensland [Brothers]
Match 6: Winners of Match 4 v NSW [Sydney University]
Week 4 – GRAND FINAL
Match 7: Winner of Match 5 v Winner of Match 6