Off the Wall

It seems that we are going to have to put up with the same PR hype from the AFL in its push into Western Sydney we had to tolerate when John O'Neill and his fist full of dollars raised at rugby league in the aftermath of the World Cup revenue windfall earlier this decade.

When you look at the state of Australia rugby today - and the Wallabies in particular - you have to wonder why the AFL is not taking notice of just how costly an exercise it was for the ARU, a cost that was not matched by long term benefits.

The recruitment of players like Wendell Sailor, Matt Rogers and Lote Tuqiri not only filled their pockets, it also filled the pockets of players who union itself developed. Today all three are gone from the ARU and have now been followed by another star recruit from league, Timana Tahu.

But the now cash-strapped ARU is still saddled with having to fund outrageous contracts for players who are probably worth but a fraction of what they are getting.

Raids on rugby league from the ARU are increasingly no more than a part of history.

The weekend media reported that the Western Sydney AFL franchise was prepared to "spend millions" recruiting rugby league players to the AFL.

Clearly they have learnt very little from the AFL's folly. And the less they learn the better it will ultimately be for rugby league.

If they spend millions recruiting a league player or three they will have to pay top dollar for recruits from ALF clubs as well...without any guarantee the addition of league recruits will count where it matters - on the score board and the premiership table.

The recruitment of Karmichael Hunt was a PR stunt, surely evidenced by the fact he is currently playing union in Europe. What a great preparation for a stellar AFL career that is?

In reality, the biggest threat to rugby league won't come from a couple of costly recruitments.

It will come from the millions that the AFL is prepared to pour into junior recruitment and development in Western Sydney.

As David Gallop has pointed out, when it comes to junior player numbers we have a commanding lead, but in cash strapped communities, and families, targeted spending by the AFL will make a serious dent on that.

We have to hope the AFL goes down the ARU path and wastes millions where it will have the least impact - on recruiting players on over the top contracts that will jack up every other players contract as well.

Rugby league needs to "be alert but not alarmed".

This is a serious challenge - one that is made more serious by the extraordinary sum the AFL appears to be prepared to spend.

The best way to respond to it is to focus on developing the game's grass roots and, if need be, put serious new dollars into junior clubs and teams in the areas the AFL is targeting in Western Sydney and South East Queensland.

We have the best television product. We have players with skills that easily match the very best the AFL can put up. And while one or two defections might be a temporary PR coup, we have shown a resilience to that in the past, and will do so again.

It is our capacity to match massive junior development, with unlimited funds, that is our greatest challenge - and the one the NRL and the ARL must focus on.