NRL plan to fund club academies in regional NSW and Queensland in push to save bush footy

Peter V’landys is taking an open chequebook into his push to save bush footy, with 16 new NRL academies set to be created across regional NSW and Queensland.

Amid growing fears country footy could be dead within 10 years, V’landys is now readying to implement a bold ‘Save The Bush’ blueprint which will be unveiled to all NRL CEOs in Brisbane during Magic Round.

The ARLC chairman has also revealed the concept, which is totally funded by League Central, and involves each NRL club taking on a region across the state, is being shaped by the likes of South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett and former Penrith GM Phil Gould.

As the centrepiece of the proposal, all 16 NRL clubs will be provided funding to establish their own Rugby League Academy in a designated country town or towns.

Clubs will be encouraged to mirror the work already being done by Panthers officials, who have successfully implemented academy programs in Bathurst and Dubbo.

V’landys is also seeking a commitment from every CEO to send marquee players bush at various times throughout the year for coaching clinics, local fundraisers, even team camps.

While the NSWRL is also working on its own strategies, which V’landys supports, he stressed it was important the NRL also injected its own “stimulus”.

While an initial figure of $1.5 million has been mooted, the ARL commission boss readily admits the figure could be higher.

“And if it takes more, OK, it takes more,” he told News Corp on Thursday. “We’ll fund it. Because we have to do something immediately for bush football.

“There’s no point waiting three years, five years … it has to be done now.”

This is not the first time NRL clubs have been asked, unsuccessfully, to adopt an area of regional NSW.

Previously though, the key sticking point was always the reluctance of some NRL clubs to tip money into perceived ‘weaker’ regions while some of their rivals, for the same outlay, were given noted strongholds like Group 10 or the Central Coast.

“But we aren’t asking clubs to fund this,” V’landys stressed. “The NRL will do it.

“So there is no down side for them. They have the opportunity to create new pathways for young players, bring in new fans, all of that.

“It’s an easy sell. But importantly, it’s also about getting country kids back to footy, helping revive senior competitions, even bring some clubs back.

“Rather than the NRL having an expensive front office, we’ll be redirecting savings the game has already made (since COVID) toward attacking these problems head on.”

While clubs will also be encouraged to take an NRL game or trial to their region from 2022, V’landys stressed it wouldn’t be compulsory and said the academies and player visits were top of his list.

Already, there are eight NRL games being played in regional centres this year.

However, for these games to take place, local councils in towns like Bathurst, Tamworth and Mudgee must first pay the home side for the right to host — a figure said to be anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000.

Four years ago, one NRL club even asked for $100,000 just to host a trial match.

It’s thought that if the NRL were to take 16 games bush every year, it would cost the game up to $5 million.

Even in 2013, the game’s then CEO Dave Smith talked up a $1.2 million proposal that would see four games shifted to country NSW every year.

By his math, Smith reckoned it would cost $300,000 for every game the NRL took bush. But that idea never materialised, either.

Then in 2017, the annual City-Country game was also scrapped.

Asked about NRL games going bush, V’landys said: “That isn’t the big deal for us.

“But clubs taking their stars into the community definitely is. Same with the academies.

“Obviously it’s a big plan, a long-term plan and in some cases it will be like we are starting over. But like any challenge, you take it head on.”