NRL fires back: 'We can't pull players out of thin air'
RUGBY LEAGUE: Those who know Richard Dugdale say he's a good man and his heart is in the right place.
Dugdale is the NRL's Game Development Manager for Central Queensland.
The man with the unenviable task of growing the sport of rugby league in an area roughly the size of New South Wales.
THE PROBLEM: State of the League
INTRODUCTION: The Decline
PART ONE: Mal Meninga Weighs In
PART TWO: Gavin Ford's Sacrifice
PART THREE: Richard Dugdale's Herculean Task
PART FOUR: Short End of the Stick
The NRL and QRL bear the brunt of criticism for the game's shortcomings and failures.
Many fans blame them for not doing enough to arrest the sport's dwindling grassroots base.
After all, they are the one's with the greatest financial incentive to do so.
The NRL generates enormous revenue through its $1.8 billion broadcast rights deal.
Its most valuable commodity are the 480 registered top-flight players.
Can the NRL really be so short-sighted? Where does it think these players come from?
The NRL cannot survive without talented players, many of whom come from the bush.
Though all the talk around rugby league of the coaching merry-go-round, refereeing (the bloody Bunker), expansion, contract disputes and the growth of the international game, one can't can't help but wonder if the NRL has its priorities out of order.
Is the game's governing body putting the cart before the horse by ignoring the decline of country football?
Like most large bureaucracies, a persistent criticism of the NRL is that the people making the decisions are out of touch.
They're meant to act in the best interests of the game.
Instead, they sit in their ivory towers in Brisbane and Sydney with little empathy or understanding for the people they're supposed to represent, or so the story goes.
That can't be said of Richard Dugdale.
Dugdale has history in the North Burnett, he lived and worked in Monto and played for the mighty Roos for more than a decade.
He has a fair understanding of the people here and how they operate.
Almost all clubs in the bush, sporting or otherwise, do it tough financially.
Dugdale said when organisations struggle the first solution always seems to be to throw some money at the problem.
He questions whether the North Burnett's population can sustain four local teams.
He asks: "Will the money solve the problem? Where would you like us to spend it?”
"It's always a question of money,” he said.
"Is it just a short-term, band aid solution for what is a much bigger problem than just the game of rugby league?
"We can't pull players out of thin air.”
The governing body regularly pays lip service to grassroots funding and "sharing profits among the game's stakeholders”.
ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie assured us in June that "more money is going to grassroots than ever before.”
We'll have to take his word for it.
They tell us Central Burnett Rugby League's woes are not money related, which is probably true, but their own spending should raise eyebrows.
Pundits have been highly critical of the NRL's financial management.
The 16 NRL clubs take the lion's share of funding and rightfully so.
In that case, should heavyweights like the Brisbane Broncos be investing more in the bush?
It beggars belief how freely some NRL clubs squander the $13 million they receive each year from the NRL.
Take, for example, the recent sacking of Penrith Panthers coach Anthony Griffin.
It's estimated the decision will cost the Panthers up to $3 million.
Imagine how many bush competitions that kind of money could sustain.
The QRL handles player accreditation and administers the state's competitions. The growth of the sport is the NRL's domain.
It's their job to educate coaches, run holiday clinics, promote the game and offer opportunities at schools to recruit players into the club system.
Schoolboy footy is non-existent in the North Burnett.
Dugdale said this is not from a lack of trying.
He said if country rugby league is to prosper again, more people have to put their hand up to get involved.
"We continually offer school opportunities, however they are not supported by the schools,” he said.
"If they don't wish to participate in our programs there is nothing we can do.
"The reality of any sport is you need to have volunteers who are committed for the long haul.
"You need someone who is highly committed to take the bull by the horns and run with it.
"We're happy to support those people but we really need them to put their hand up.”
The sport is in desperate need of some vision and direction from the top.
It need leaders who are willing to think outside the box.
Rugby league's leading minds, both locally and nationally, need to get together to figure out a way forward.
Yes, the response must be community-driven but it also needs to be collaborative. If regions lay the foundation, the NRL and QRL are more likely to come to the table.
The Intrust Super Premiership now holds Country Round, an initiative that brings matches to towns throughout Queensland's Central and Northern divisions - Mundubbera's Archer Park was the beneficiary last year.
It's a fantastic initiative that must continue.
Rugby league needs more ideas like this to attract the top players to the bush and inspire the next generation.
Country Round is all well and good but a more serious discussion is needed to turn the sport around.
Dugdale said the ball is in our court.
"(Bringing marquee players to the bush) does happen, whether or not has any affect on participation I can't say,” he said.
"My first piece of advice is to hold a special meeting and invite people like myself.
"We need a constructive talk where clubs are prepared to be brutally honest and open about where they are.
"If (the Central Burnett Rugby League) is able to come up with a positive, sustainable solution for your area then I'm sure the NRL and the QRL will support it.”
Next, we hear from the current crop of players to see what they think the future holds for rugby league.