A long-term partnership between NRL powerhouse Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs and the North Coast Rugby League Region was detailed at a meeting this week.
Bulldogs chief executive Andrew Hill, board member Chris Anderson, recruitment officer Mark Hughes and pathways performance manager Andy Patmore along with Country Rugby League operations manager Bert Lowry met with Group Three junior and senior officials on Monday night to outline the plan. This meeting was described by Mr Hill as ‘very positive.’
The partnership will come into play from November 1. While Mr Hill wouldn’t put a time frame as to how long it will last, he assured the Bulldogs are here for the long run.
“In partnership with the Country Rugby League it’s the chance for us to promote, profligate, educate and improve all aspects of the game in this region. Canterbury is a big club and a big brand and we feel that we’re in a strong position to grow the game,’’ Mr Hill said.
“The Country Rugby League has been trying to partner all our regions with NRL clubs,’’ Mr Lowry explained.
“We’re trying to set up partnerships with our teams involved in the Andrew Johns Cup (under 16s) and Laurie Daley Cup (under 18) teams. One of the main drivers behind that is to put the program in place locally which will mean kids don’t have to go to Sydney when they’re 14 or 15. The whole aim is to try and get a quality program in place and we need the NRL expertise in that.
“The CRL doesn’t have the resources or the expertise or the necessary funding where an NRL club will.
“That’s where it all kicked off and from there it branches off into sport trainer assistance, assistance for coaches, administration assistance – all of that.’’
Mr Hill said the first step for the Bulldogs is to ensure that it’s a true partnership.
“It’s not just a relationship between the Country Rugby League and the Bulldogs – this has to be an effective partnership between all stakeholders, junior and senior clubs, councils and schools,’’ he said.
"From a club point of view we think there’ll be a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between us and the region,’’ Mr Hill said.
“This will clearly articulate the responsibilities we have to the district and ultimately if we do the right thing we will have systems in place to identify talented players.
“But this isn’t about solely looking at the best kids and getting them ready for Sydney. This is an NRL club understanding that we have a broader responsibility to the game.
“This opportunity has never been presented to NRL clubs in this manner and we congratulate the Country Rugby League for having the foresight to give us this opportunity and to make a structured program.
“This is a long term strategy and a responsibility shared between the Bulldogs, local rugby league and the Country Rugby League.
“In time I’d like to think that it will put pressure the National Rugby League to acknowledge and support bush footy in a greater manner than it currently does.’’
Mr Hill said the fact that four of the club’s managers made the trip for the meeting shows just how serious the
Bulldogs are taking the partnership.
“We want this to grow and to be successful. This is a win-win for everybody if we do this properly,’’ he said.
Mr Lowry added that senior football in Group Three will benefit by having better junior players here longer instead of them moving to Sydney when they’re 14 or 15.
“They’ll complete their schooling here and stay at home with their parents. NRL clubs would generally prefer kids from the country play some first grade in the bush before heading to the city, because it gives them that harder edge.’’
Mr Hill added that the long term strategy is to get more boys and girls playing rugby league.
“And keep them at home longer,’’ he said.
Mr Lowry said there’s a misconception that the CRL doesn’t want top juniors heading to the NRL.
“We want to encourage every kid to try and play NRL, but not to relocate until the time’s right – finish their schooling and grow up with mum and dad,’’ he explained.
Mr Hill confirmed the club will look to involve its NRL squad in the area.
“It’s premature to say what we would do, but certainly if we’re doing the right thing in the region, the facilities are here for us to have camps and pre-season trial games. We’d certainly be looking at that.’’
Mr Lowry said the club understands it needs a presence in the area.
“It’s no good saying, ‘yeah, we've got that area’, the club needs to be seen.’’
Mr Hill said there’s no time limit on how long the agreement might last.
“This has to work for everyone. The CRL are saying let’s have a long term agreement, but it has to be an agreement that everyone wants to work.
“We’re going to start with some small steps and as people get confident with what we’re delivering, we like to think it would grow.
“The more engagement we get with local councils, with schools and with other community stake holders, the better.
“In five or 10 years time when the region is ‘Bulldogified’ it will be something that people will hopefully look back and say it was a really important time for the game, where we able to bring in some extra resources.
“When the Bulldogs were strong it was on the basis that we were developing our own kids in our own backyard, as well as bringing in elite kids from across regional NSW. Unfortunately the club has gone away from that.
“Our long term view is to return to a development club that brings players through our system and that has to be a long term strategy.’’