The 2019 season is just around the corner with the release this week of not only the Intrust Super Cup draw; but also the draws for the Hastings Deering Colts and Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup. QRL Media caught up with Competitions Manager Dave Maiden to get his thoughts on the season ahead.
QRL Media: The draws for the Intrust Super Cup, Hastings Deering Colts and Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup are out! What are your thoughts on how they have been structured for 2019?
Dave Maiden: The benefits of having the three competitions aligned serve the purpose of creating and enhancing club culture (by) ensuring the Under 18 and Under 20 (players) have a visible means to identify their intended pathway in rugby league. Intrust Super Cup provides the younger players with their aspirational - and for the lucky few - their transitional pathway; and with the alignment of all competitions, they get the opportunity each week to see the level of commitment and professionalism required to progress.
Fans of our game will also get the opportunity to see the next generation of stars and staples – by that I mean they will see where their club can expect to enjoy the services of the next up-and-coming star who may play in their club’s Intrust Super Cup colours before they go on to the NRL. But more importantly, they will see their club’s staples – those players who relish the opportunity to play in their team colours and will represent the fans who have seen them progress from Day 1.
QRL Media: Can you give us some more information on the themed rounds for next year? Many familiar ones are returning – why is it important to support those causes?
DM: We are lucky we have a product that resonates with many people and enjoys a reach across the entire breadth of our great state and beyond. Because of that, we have an opportunity, and also an obligation, to promote those causes that affect our participants and fans who support our game. There are rounds that will remain a permanent fixture within our calendar (XXXX Rivalry Round, ANZAC Round, Harvey Norman Women in League Round, Indigenous Round, Country Week and “Turn to Me” Round), but we also try to promote awareness around a worthy cause each season.
QRL Media: Overall, it was a great year for the Intrust Super Cup with many highlights. What were some of yours 2018? And further to that, what are you looking forward to next season?
DM: I thought the standard of rugby league across all competitions was exceptional in 2018 and I look forward to seeing that improve in 2019. The Intrust Super Cup had nine teams in the running for finals up until the penultimate round which was exciting for fans and participants. The introduction of a Top 8 format in 2019 will see teams alive in the race for longer, keeping supporters engaged in our competitions for longer, which is something we are always trying to achieve.
I also love seeing younger players emerge as their confidence in playing rugby league against men expands. This year saw exciting talents such as Kotoni Staggs, Jake Clifford, David Fifita and Ethan Bullemor rise and our (Major Competitions) team looks forward to providing competition structures that gives young men such as these an opportunity to shine and be recognised.
The Hastings Deering Colts also allowed young men to stay and play at home with the support of family and friends in a state-wide competition and the benefits of that stability was clearly evident in the standard of play. It is hoped these men will provide depth to community competitions that ensures the strength and longevity of our game, particularly in the bush.
QRL Media: Touching back on a few issues that were spoken about in your last catch up with us in September, with regards to the PNG Hunters, where is the QRL at with their ongoing inclusion?
DM: These negotiations have been ongoing and involve many facets of our game including the Hunters, PNGRFL, QRL, NRL and our broadcast partners; as well as the club’s existing financial supporters. One thing is for certain – the QRL wants the Hunters in our competition and they in return wish to continue. As with all clubs, we are close to finalising the requirements of our clubs Participation Agreements which outline the terms of all parties for the next four years until the end of the current broadcast deal.
QRL Media: The end of the season saw the announcement that Victoria Thunderbolts have left our competition to join with NSWRL. What does this mean for our competitions?
DM: We welcomed the involvement of Victoria Thunderbolts in our competitions and thank them for their past participation. They provided an opportunity for our younger teams to travel and stay overnight which doesn’t happen all that often at an Under 18 and Under 20 level and was certainly a developmental tool for our players and clubs. However, it makes economical and logistical sense for them to participate in the NSWRL competitions and we wish them well with their transition.
Although some may have criticised their inclusion, the QRL has always maintained that we would welcome their inclusion – providing the cost of their participation did not take funds away from grassroots rugby league in Queensland. As their inclusion was funded externally to our grants, this was the reality and the reason why we continued to welcome them into our competitions.
However, with their move to NSWRL, we have been able to align the draw for all competitions which hasn’t been possible in the past, so we are excited by that for the reasons as covered above.
QRL Media: Expansion is always a hot topic in rugby league. How far off is Toowoomba and the surrounding region from having an Intrust Super Cup team back in the competition?
DM: We have been in discussion with the Western Mustangs steering committee for the past two years, (and they have) indicated their desire to re-enter the Intrust Super Cup in the near future. Expansion to ensure we have complete coverage across our state is firmly in the QRL charter and we are right behind their bid. Having said that, we don’t want them to enter before they are ready, so will continue to work with them with a view of seeing them in the Intrust Super Cup in the next few years.
It is a fine balance between providing a natural pathway for their participants as soon as possible and not rushing the process which causes their organisation to stumble at the first hurdle. We want to see economically sound and participant rich clubs whose existence is sustainable in perpetuity.
We have a number of parameters we will look at in terms of determining whether an expansion club can sustain a team and they revolve around the number of participants they have in their proposed catchment area combined with the number and quality of the industries and businesses they have within that same area – this goes a long way to determining player and economical sustainability.
We have also spoken with the Northern Territory about whether they are interested in competing in our competitions and those discussions will continue.
QRL Media: What about the Hunters having a team in the Under 20 Hastings Deering Colts; is this still a goal of the club?
DM: The Hunters have indicated they wish to eventually enter a team in the competition, but understand the first instance will be to establish a sound domestic competition aligned with their own national competition.
QRL Media: Finally – anything else you want fans to know about the Major Competitions or to look forward to in season 2019?
DM: The QRL believes fans of the game will see an increased level of competition across all age groups. We want to see the speed of our game increased and this can be done through a number of initiatives.
We are looking to reduce the amount of time the ball is out of play by speeding up drop outs, scrums and kicks at goal. More time with the ball in play means more value for money and with an increased speed and less time to recover; it increases the level of fatigue, which reintroduces the ability of small, agile players to make their mark against tiring defenders.
We are also looking at introducing a number of initiatives into our pre-season trials such as a 20-40 kick (similar to a 40-20 kick whereby a successful outcome will see the kicking team retain possession with a tap restart 20m in from where the ball enters touch after finding the touch line beyond the oppositions 40m line with a kick from behind their 20m line).
This will encourage teams to potentially spread the ball earlier in order to take advantage of a shortened defensive line with wingers expected to cover the possibility of a kick, rather than a defensive team loading up with a compact line and increased line speed on a team stuck in their own 20m zone. There is risk and reward and an element of excitement we believe fans will enjoy.
We have also introduced more definitive and consistent concussion assessments on game day that will ensure the long-term wellbeing of our participants is maintained.