Long-serving QRL administrator MICHAEL PEASE takes a step back in time to explore the origins of the Queensland Cup (now Intrust Super Cup)
Basking in the glory of success is so very easy, and of course such an activity is something that a lot of people excel at. However creating that success story is much harder and this requires traits of character like courage, strength and commitment as a well as a vision.
This a recollection of the vision that became today’s successful Intrust Super Cup competition, and returned the undisputed third best rugby league competition in the world to Queensland.
The Intrust Super Cup no doubt rated only behind the NRL and (arguably) the English Super League for player quality.
The QRL’s Managing Director at that time, the late Ross Livermore, was instrumental in orchestrating the change to the current competition structure. And it was no easy feat to sell such a major change. Of course other people contributed to the format of the new concept, and I was lucky enough to play a part in its introduction, and the QRL Board at that time were challenged to make some very tough decisions regarding the future of rugby league.
The State League concept was introduced by the QRL as a way to boost the game in the Country Queensland regions. Under this short competition format, the famous Brisbane clubs, full of the game’s superstars, travelled into these rural areas to take on towns or regions. Like everything over time as the game changed the initial benefits from this structure started to fade, and this became the template for a longer “premiership” format to be discussed during the 1995 season.
Now you also have to remember that this (1995) year saw the “Super League” fiasco unleashed on an unsuspecting rugby league world. Having experienced the uncertainty of that time I have no interest in revisiting the turmoil which was caused, although I can highlight that even under the pressures of the legal challenges Ross dedicated time to also oversee the development of the blueprint covering this competition.
You must consider that this already was a time of great change and uncertainly for the game. Rugby League had expanded into new horizons with new teams accepted into the National competition. However this bold move did create some unrest for a number of clubs, who started to demand a greater share for the overall revenue pool. Sound familiar?
The other point to note would be that a number of the initiatives which were developed at that time through Ross’ ingenuity are now the fabric of to nominate a standard squad of 25 players, a fulltime CEO was a requirement to each club, a Business Plan and a Strategic Plan was an expectation.
During preparations for the 1995 State League competition, run under a revised Local League group structure in an attempt to enhance the format, a proposal was presented to the QRL Board outlining the new longer premiership competition. Conditions were drafted and applications were sought from teams seeking to enter the new State League based on the strict criteria. This included an expectation of plans to guarantee the long term viability of each submission.
As the proposal gathered momentum Ross attended several meetings throughout the state to outline the competition benefits in each of the Local League centres selected for inclusion. Not all meetings were cordial, with some leagues and clubs fearful that the concept of the format would result in the demise of their Local League premiership. You would agree that there is little evidence of any such thing having occurred in the majority of these regions. Overtures were also being made to the PNG Rugby League to include a team from that Nation. A bold move at that time.
There was also opposition at the QRL Board level, with two Divisions submitting their concerns of the proposal and its introduction. At that time a total of six Divisions operated to form the QRL Board – South East (Brisbane), Southern, South West, Wide Bay, Central and Northern.
Of interest also was the decision of the South East (Brisbane) Division to exclude both the Brothers and Ipswich Jets clubs from the 1996 Brisbane Premier A grade competition. Both clubs lodged a Dispute Notice with the QRL, and following this process and the acceptance of some guarantees the QRL ruled that both clubs were to be included in the 1996 premiership structure.
A total of 18 submissions were received seeking entry into the new State League format. The QRL also was working with ARL powerbroker Graham Richardson to finalise a sponsorship and telecast package for the competition, with Pay Television about to be introduced into Australia with local content provisions. A five year deal was pursued and eventually the QRL were able to confirm a partnership with Channel 9 as the Major Sponsor of the competition, and the Channel 9 Queensland Cup was born.
The major share of the sponsorship money was allocated to the clubs to support the employment of a fulltime Chief Executive, as a compulsory requirement for all teams. This was set as a condition to plan accordingly for game’s transfer into a more professional era, on and off the field. Few of the existing clubs were managed by fulltime staff, with this financial incentive the obvious boost.
The make-up of the initial 16 team competition which was approved is reasonably well known, and this was considered a fair mix. There were eight “City” teams – (Pine Rivers) Brothers, Easts, Logan, Norths, Redcliffe, Souths, Wests and Wynnum, plus eight “Country” teams – Bundaberg Cairns, Central (Rockhampton), Ipswich, Mackay, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba and Port Moresby. A fifteen round draw was drafted with every team meeting once, before the top five finals series.
There has been a number of changes over the years to this club structure, with some teams entering and withdrawing for different seasons. You will note that the Gold Coast was not represented in the first year, however Burleigh addressed that anomaly for season two, and remain as an integral part of the competition today.
With Toowoomba and Cairns joining City teams Redcliffe, Souths and Wests for the finals the format was heralded as an immediate success. However it was the effort of Toowoomba to withstand the powerful Dolphins in a memorable decider at Suncorp Stadium that really silenced the doubters. Even more memorable from the day was the performance of then QRL Chairman and Toowoomba legend, John McDonald to try to present an impartial air as the final ebbed and flowed to its 8-6 climax for the Clydesdales, Toowoomba captain Don Saunders was named in the “Team of the Decade” ten years ago and was also bestowed the additional hour of team captain.
Current QRL boss Rob Moore and the Board Members and Rob’s current administration team have maintained a focus to build the competition, aided by long time sponsorship partner Intrust Super, with its profile continuing to grow. The return of PNG in 2014, after withdrawing in 1997 after two seasons, was a masterstroke and the inclusion this year of the Townsville Blackhawks has ensured that the format remains fresh for competing teams as well as supporters.
The game continues to face change and if any lessons can be learnt from history, it is that change is simply that … change. What makes change a success is the co-operation of all parties involved to plan accordingly and provide support when required to continue to grow the game. Sometimes decisions must be made that may not be universally accepted, however as with the great success of the Intrust Super Cup competition now, the tough decisions and the initial efforts to establish a concept fade over time. There is no doubt more memories have emerged from this exciting 20th anniversary season.