Rugby League is a game of many traditions. The Dragon?s Red V. The JJ Giltinan Shield. The Haka before every Anzac Test. These elements of our game have stood the test of time. The Dragons have undergone major restructure with Illawarra. Yet the Red V continues to run out at Kogarah. The JJ Giltinan Shield continues to grace the foyer of the Minor Premiers, and our friends from across the ditch still dance their way into battle.
But amongst some of the steadfast traditions in our game, the winds of change have unsettled things. And the once breezy conditions are headed towards gale force, as our game continues to adapt for its own survival?s sake.
One of the elements of Rugby League is the concept of the local junior. For many years the success of our game was dependant on the nurseries across the states of NSW, Queensland and New Zealand. These junior leagues were the future for their regional Senior teams. They were a production line, and with a little bit of luck could produce the next Messenger, Churchill or Beetson. Local juniors always supported their senior team. Local Juniors always aspired to one day represent their senior team. Local juniors once belonged to that senior club.
There are two schools of thought. Old and New. And you either subscribe to one or the other.
In the case of Local juniors, there are definitely two schools amongst supporters. There are the groups who take great pride in the size of their local junior clubs. Penrith, Parramatta, South Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane and Canberra, are either clubs that have had a large piece of the junior pie for decades, or are one team towns that bake their own.
Then there are clubs like The Roosters. The Roosters lost a large majority of their local juniors to the South Sydney Junior Competition. The reasons for this are numerous, and will be addressed another day. The point is, there are only 4 junior clubs directly linked with The Roosters as Local Juniors. St.Charles, Paddington, Clovelly and Bondi United.
For years The Roosters have had to recruit juniors from other areas. It was a necessity if they were to survive. And for years The Roosters have been the butt of many jokes on how they ?poach everyone else?s?.
But those gales of change are quickly turning into a cyclone. . Enter Expansion. Enter Senior Teams from traditionally non-League dominated regions. For example Melbourne. The expansion of League, along with the professionalism that it has developed over that past 20 years, has seen foreign recruitment become a necessity and a part of a strong business plan. Due to the lack of local junior leagues, these clubs have developed good business relationships with Feeder Clubs outside their immediate areas. Melbourne recruit from the Brisbane competition. The Roosters have a strong development arrangement with Redcliffe.
League has become an Elite, professional sport. And as such, clubs need to look further to fulfil their interests in the Top League. At the same time, they offer a career path and opportunities for juniors originating from areas that normally wouldn?t afford them the chance of representing in the code?s elite competition.
The focus has gone from Local junior development, to Professional Junior Development. It no longer matters where a junior is from. And for those that subscribe to the archaic way of thinking that some clubs ?buy all their juniors?, then all they have to do is look at their own team sheets this weekend. They may be surprised to find how many players in their top sides are not local juniors.
Its no surprise. Its how the game has been developing for a couple of decades now. So what?s to happen to the poor local kid that has played his 15 years for Wenty Magpies? Will he ever get graded at The Eels? Looking at the recruitment policy of the Eels, there?s a good chance he wont.
And so we pass through the eye of the cyclone of change. And we see Local Juniors become Feeder Juniors. Possibly for the Local Senior clubs, but somewhere in Penrith, Campbelltown or The Hunter, there is a kid who could go on to play Origin, win a World Cup, or do a lap of honour at Telstra Stadium?..for the Roosters, The Warriors, or The Raiders.
The local kid hasn?t died. He?s alive and well and flourishing. He just doesn?t live here anymore.
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