Remedies for rugby’s great headache

Shute Shield champion Dan Parks has encouraged the Sydney Rugby Union and NSW Rugby to look to the past to help solve the issues plaguing the code in the city’s west.

There are fears for Penrith, Western Sydney Two Blues and West Harbour’s futures in the Shute Shield after the Sydney Morning Herald revealed details of a controversial draft agreement that would impose stringent criteria upon the struggling clubs.

The SRU released a statement on Tuesday night stating that “all relevant stakeholders are working towards the ultimate goal of creating stronger premier clubs within the competition, ensuring all players can compete in all grades of Australia’s premier club rugby competition week in and out.”

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It added that the next steps would involve “an updated agreement circulated for the clubs to provide further comments, and feedback, as part of a continuing collaborative process being undertaken by the SRU.”

Parks, who starred for West Harbour, Southern Districts and Eastern Suburbs as well as representing Scotland, shared his views and potential fixes on Stan Sport’s latest edition of Rugby Heaven.

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“One point I do want to make is in the late 90s, when Penrith were a bit of a powerhouse, there was certain criteria around how Penrith became reasonably good,” Parks said.

“They put coaching out there, Scott Johnson went out there and he coached out there, he really lifted the spirits and the impact on the community. And all the players that were on the verge of Waratahs selection, or I guess were in academy roles, were sent out there to play.

“The likes of James Bullock, Peter Besseling, these types of blokes went out there and played and it really added a great deal to that area.

“And they were right on the edges of the top five for many years while that criteria was in place. So maybe there’s something there, that the state rugby could look to introduce.”

Parks said it would be “very sad” if clubs out west were forced to fold although a “realistic” view meant that “there might have to be amalgamation somewhere along the line.”

Parks is now commentating on the Shute Shield for Stan Sport.

Former Wallaby and Randwick stalwart Morgan Turinui pointed out that while Penrith’s first grade side was currently struggling, the club was ticking plenty of other boxes.

“We see an iceberg and we see the top seventh above water and we comment on the top seventh that we know about,” Turinui said.

“We know nothing about what’s going on behind the scenes. I think there’s a genuine idea of trying to bring everyone up. I think Parramatta is the name, the brand, the club that has to be saved at all costs…

“If there is intent to help everyone and make sure there is a presence west of Concord Oval and Sydney Uni, which there has to be, otherwise you can’t call yourself Sydney Rugby Union anymore.”

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Australia’s rugby players association, Justin Harrison, said the game needed to debate and decide whether the Shute Shield should be treated as the final stepping stone into the professional game, or whether a National Rugby Championship equivalent was necessary.

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“We need to be aligned,” Harrison said.

“We have a group of clubs meeting in Shute Shield and they’re on TV now and getting some more exposure – that product needs to definitely become more competitive and high performing. Is it better to put criteria into that, based on player retention or high performance, funding models start to become important, is there a centralised unity of purpose for the game?

“Let’s get broader conversations happening about where we want to be and start to solve for that on the way back.”

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