Australian rugby will begin a second quest to establish a provincial competition when the new-look National Rugby Championship kicks off this week.
New teams, new rules, new opportunity.
That’s the aim of the National Rugby Championship (NRC), a nine-team provincial competition kicking off at Ballymore on Thursday night with the inaugural clash between Brisbane City and Sydney Stars.
Following where the defunct Australian Rugby Championship failed after just one season in 2007, it’s hoped the new-look competition can close the gap between club rugby and Super Rugby, offering recovering stars and up-and-coming talent somewhere to shine.
Wallabies Quade Cooper and Will Genia, both part of the Brisbane City squad, will not feature in the opening match against the Stars but are expected to make their return from injury during the nine-round competition.
Instead the Brisbane team will kick off under the guidance of coach and former Test prop Nick Stiles, with seven players in their line-up having experienced Super Rugby.
With Ben Tapuai and Liam Gill joining Reds teammates Cooper and Genia on the sidelines, Stiles has drawn heavily on youngsters and those performing in Brisbane’s Premier Rugby competition for his inaugural line-up.
He thinks that’s exactly what the NRC should be about.
“We need to bridge the gap from club rugby to Super rugby as much as possible,” Stiles said.
“This pathway with NRC is crucial to that. To upskill players like Michael Gunn, Adam Korczyk, Andrew Ready is just invaluable. We’ll see the benefits to this competition for a long time to come.”
Jeremy Tilse, Paddy Ryan and skipper Patrick McCutcheon in the forwards, as well as Michael Hodge and Peter Betham in the backline, are members of the Super Rugby champion Waratahs squad included in the Stars team which is heading north.
Thursday’s game will also be a chance for fans to witness the new points system and rules being used throughout the competition.
Penalties and drop goals have been reduced to just two points while a try conversion will now be worth three points.
There will also be time limits for scrum formation and kicks at goal in an effort to speed up the match.
Thursday’s match kicks off at 7.30pm with the Canberra Vikings hosting Perth Spirit on Saturday along with the NSW Country Eagles welcoming Greater Sydney Rams to Coogee Oval.
The opening round concludes on Sunday with the Melbourne Rising taking on the North Harbour Rays in Melbourne.
AUSTRALIAN RUGBY’S BRAVE NEW WORLD
* National Rugby Championship consists of nine teams – four from NSW, two from Qld and one each from the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Western Australia
* Runs for 11 weeks from August 21 to November 1. Each team to play four home and four away matches and have one bye before a four-team finals series (semi-finals and final)
* All Super Rugby players not in Wallabies squad eligible
* Wallabies players allocated to each team. Can play if made available by Wallabies coaching staff
Coach: Nick Stiles
Captain: Curtis Browning
Home ground: Ballymore, Suncorp Stadium
GREATER SYDNEY RAMS
Coach: Brian Melrose
Captain: Jed Holloway
Home ground: Parramatta Stadium
Coach: Sean Hedger
Captain: Nic Stirzaker
Home ground: AAMI Park
NSW COUNTRY EAGLES
Coach: Darren Coleman
Captain: Cameron Treloar
Home grounds: Caltex Park, Dubbo; Wade Park, Orange; Oakes Oval, Lismore; Coogee Oval
NORTH HARBOUR RAYS
Coach: Geoff Townsend
Captain: Cam Crawford
Home ground: Brookvale Oval
Coaches: David Wessels and Kevin Foote
Home grounds: University of WA, Perth; HBF Arena, Perth; Rockingham RUC, Perth; Adelaide Airport Stadium, SA
Coach: Steve Meehan
Captain: Anthony Fainga’a
Home grounds: Bond University, Gold Coast; Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast; Ballymore; Mike Carney Toyota Park, Townsville
Coach: Chris Malone
Captain: Pat McCutcheon
Home ground: Leichhardt Oval
Coach: Dan McKellar
Captain: Fotu Auelua
Home grounds: Viking Park, ACT