Yesterday's announcement of an in principle agreement between the Newtown RLFC and Cronulla-Sutherland RLFC has caused a lot of confusion among fans of both clubs and fans of Rugby League in general.
It appears that a lot of the confusion arises out of the term "joint entity". The phrase is very similar to "joint venture", the euphemism that became a buzzword for the NRL mergers of the late 1990s.
Looking at the substance of the agreement, a more appropriate term for the agreement would be "feeder club". Cronulla will drop their Premier League team and instead out source the function to the Newtown RLFC. As a result, the Newtown Jets VB Premier League team will become the Reserves side for Cronulla-Sutherland. Each club retains its identity. No Cronulla Jets. No Newtown Sharks. The NRL side will be Cronulla-Sutherland. The Premier League team will be the Newtown Jets.
The benefits for both clubs are clear. Cronulla will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in player and ancillary costs. In the uncertain climate of gaming machine tax reform this is a wise move for the Sharks. Further, the Sharks will benefit from Newtown's current crop of players as the Jets sit higher on the Premier League table than the Sharks. Newtown will benefit from a direct path to the NRL via the Sharks. This will assist the club in attracting players and sponsors.
The VB Premier League has enormous potential for Rugby League in New South Wales. Given the roller coaster ride Rugby League has experienced in the past ten years, the VB Premier League has the potential to lure fans that yearn for tribalism and tradition in our sport. The competition contains traditional Sydney clubs that have been lost to top grade Rugby League. Many fans have been lost to the game. The SANFL and Queensland Cup can be called upon as examples of successful state based competitions that draw good crowds with traditional fixtures and television interest.
Unfortunately, the current regime at the NSWRL does not recognise this. It has not pursued a marketing and broadcasting strategy worthy of a state based competition. For example, NSW is the only state that does not have its number one winter sport on ABC TV on Saturday afternoons. VB Premier League coverage in the official Rugby League media is also disappointing, especially when compared to equivalent and subordinate competitions.
In that light, clubs need to form alliances they would not otherwise have to ensure their survival. Purists may miss the traditional Newtown-Cronulla matches. I certainly will. The only way the Jets will take on the Sharks now will be in West Side Story. However it is a decision clubs will be forced into given the state of the game in New South Wales.