11.09.2008 – Graham Croker

NSW Rugby Union will face stiff opposition from some clubs if it attempts to introduce a player points system and reduce the number of teams each club fields for the 2009 First Division Shute Shield Club Championship.

Sydney University Football Club president, David Mortimer, told 840 guests at the 2008 Finals Luncheon that the club would vigorously oppose the changes mooted by the NSWRU.

Under the proposed premiership player points system, all players selected for first grade and second grade teams will be graded individually, taking into account the competitions in which they have played.

However, players who have played for their club for a number of years, or games, or have ancestry with a particular club, can have their points discounted so they can fit under a points cap, which is yet to be determined.

“Clubs will know that on the track at any one time you are only allowed so many points,” NSWRU chief executive Jim L’Estrange said when the changes were proposed last week. “The [club] general managers have been determining those points over the last few weeks.

“What they are trying to do is make sure there is a sustainable competition which is week-in, week-out a good competition through the grades.”

The NSWRU board also agreed that the 2009 Tooheys New Shute Shield will remain as a 12-team competition made up of the same sides as this season and continue as a 22-round home-and-away series.

However, under the NSWRU proposal, premiership clubs will no longer be required to field four grade teams and three Colts sides for the club championship, but only three grade sides and two Colts teams.

Colts sides will play an 18-round season, as against the 22 rounds they played this year, and separate third grade and fourth grade competitions will be held but with no championship points on offer.

Mr Mortimer echoed the thoughts of former Wallaby and Randwick stalwart, Simon Poidevin, in roundly criticising the NSWRU proposals.

Mr Poidevin told The Sydney Morning Herald last week that attempts by the NSWRU to restrict the ability of bigger clubs to recruit players “is up there with the most despicable and gutless decisions made by the NSWRU Board in the history of the game in the State of NSW”.

“Since when does any business or sport gravitate to the lowest common denominator to take that business or sport forward,” Mr Poidevin said.

“If they think it has been rubber-stamped, the fight has just begun. Their total lack of judgment on the [defunct] ARC (Australian Rugby Championship) and the huge losses that sprayed out of that monstrosity … they still make the same decisions.

“One of the great ironies is that the good clubs that were paying players big amounts of money recklessly are the clubs that want this new system because they have sent themselves broke making stupid decisions.”

On the move to reduce the number of teams involved in the Club Championship, Mr Poidevin said NSWRU was diluting its product.

“It’s about time the NSWRU worked out that club rugby is a huge asset rather than being something which they throw around like a rag doll. The sooner the Australian Rugby Union takes control of club rugby in this country, the sooner we will have sensible decisions for the future of the game being made.”

Mr Mortimer said he has often been told SUFC is “too strong” and “too successful”, but the criticism usually came from clubs that aren’t as successful.

“It has been said we have an unfair advantage. Well, we do, but only because we work hard to attract young athletes and provide them with good coaches and programs. Go to Colts training nights and you might find Dan Vickerman, Al Kanaar, Trevor Woodman or Ross Reynolds assisting the coaches.

“We have invested in quality coaching and sound administration. I give a commitment to our players and supporters that we’ll vigorously oppose these proposed changes.”

In other news, Mr Mortimer told the star-studded luncheon that SUFC has had another fabulous year, with six teams through to the finals.

“First Grade were minor premiers, 12 points clear of the nearest opposition,” he said. “And the three Colts teams are minor premiers again. We’ve also won the Club Championship and the Colts Club Championship again.

“This season we have won a 5th Club Championship in a row. We’ve had seven wins and three seconds in the past 10 years.

“The Colts have won a 4th Colts Club Championship in a row and the 7th in the past 10 years.

“But statistics don’t tell how difficult the season has been. Firsts have played 23 matches without a break; there have been injuries to key players throughout the grades and that is why clubs need a depth of talent to succeed.

“Of the 22 first graders involved in last year’s grand final, only six played last Saturday. Injuries, career choices or moves overseas accounted for the rest.”

Mr Mortimer said University clubs are different to others. “We need depth of talent to be competitive,” he said.

“Contrary to some people’s beliefs, we don’t head-hunt players or purge other clubs. Out teams are loaded with athletes from our Colts program.”

The president ended on a positive note, offering best wishes to First XV captain Tim Davidson in securing a fourth successive title.