Under-20 comp unsustainable - Wayne Bennett

It hasn't captured as much attention as it should have but there is a big issue facing rugby league right now, and that's the very strong push from Sydney for the establishment of a national under-20 competition.

We can't afford to take our eyes off the ball on this one because this proposal has the potential to do enormous damage to the game, especially at the grassroots level.

Those pushing for an under-20 competition to run parallel with the NRL say it would give league a better chance to compete with the AFL, rugby union and soccer for the available talent.

They probably believe that, but I think they are terribly misguided in what they see as a way forward for the game.

The Broncos are strongly opposed to an under-20 national competition, and it's not because we oppose everything that comes out of Sydney.

In the early to mid '90s we had a reserve grade competition but it was disbanded because the cost of player payments, travel and accommodation was crippling the clubs. We can see the same thing happening with an under-20 competition.

We are also extremely worried about the effect another national competition would have on the Queensland Wizard Cup, a terrific statewide contest which is a legitimate second-tier competition to the NRL.

They don't have a state league in NSW so they don't really care what happens to ours, but that's another story.

Each of the 16 NRL clubs would need 20 or 25 players to man their under-20 teams so we are talking about taking another 400-odd players out of the bush leagues, the Queensland Cup, New Zealand Bartercard Cup and Sydney second division. That's a frightening thought.

The Broncos also feel the whole idea of signing up a stack of 18 to 20-year-old players makes no sense. Everyone involved at this level of the game knows we have identified talent well before that age.

There will always be late bloomers, of course ? take Shane Perry and Adam Mogg for example ? but there are already pathways for those players to use to the NRL.

We also know that of the 25 players we would need in our under-20 squads perhaps five would be guys we truly believed would be of NRL standard. The others would be carried along for the (very expensive) ride.

If we really need another national competition to help retain our talent, let's have national under-16 and under-18 comps and play them over abbreviated seasons of eight or 10 weeks.

At that age we've already identified the kids we want and bringing them together for a shortened competition would do them and us a lot of good.

Apparently the game has a "spare" $3 million to put into the establishment of this under-20 competition. As Australian Rugby League chief executive Geoff Carr said the other day, there are a lot better ways of spending $3 million.

The Broncos agree with that sentiment 100 per cent.

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