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3 days ago
Australian Rugby League chief executive Geoff Carr says the game's powerbrokers need to loosen the purse strings and put more money into the fight for western Sydney.
With the cash-laden AFL planning to strike into league's western Sydney heartland in the coming years, Carr said the game's owners - NRL and News Limited - would have to increase funding for the grassroots programs to keep the significant dominance in junior numbers over rival codes.
"If we are going to continue to be the dominant sport in western Sydney we can no longer just sit back and expect we will be unless we consolidate our position and spend a bit more money," said Carr.
"The partnership running the game makes substantial revenue and it's just a matter of prioritising where you spend it.
"I think there's an appreciation in rugby league that western Sydney should be an area of priority.
"We have a significant advantage at the moment but it's up to us not to be complacent, to make sure we adequately source those areas so we can continue to provide the opportunities that we do."
Carr says rugby league participation has increased 15 per cent since 2000 in western Sydney, the game boasting almost 1300 teams in weekend competition.
He says league's popularity doesn't even compare to the AFL, who use inflated figures to represent their appeal by counting AusKick program attendees.
"The AFL count differently and they count all sorts of things," said Carr.
"The question for them is how many teams do you have out there? We can boast almost 1300 teams and that's just people playing week in and week out and not in schools.
"We have a very big school based program ourselves too.
"The message from us is we're not just going to watch them do it, we're certainly going to be prepared to work hard to protect our turf."
While it is inevitable that the AFL will make some headway into league's stranglehold, Carr knows the other code's junior development pathways can't match the current league set up.
With this year's introduction of a national under 20s competition, elite juniors in NSW can now play in top level underage competitions with an NRL club without going into the lottery of a draft.
"We've got local clubs for local heroes," said Carr.
"We certainly see our system as significantly better for kids if they're good enough to choose their own pathway.
"You can start wearing a Parramatta jumper at 15 and play in the NRL and play for Australia and never go anywhere else if you don't want to.
"Whereas kids who want to play AFL have to be available to go into a draft at 18 and then they've got no real control of where they go in their career."