NRL game development manager Richard Dugdale, QRL Burnett operations manager Lisa Anderson and NRL's Blake Mara at the rugby league forum in Monto.
NRL game development manager Richard Dugdale, QRL Burnett operations manager Lisa Anderson and NRL's Blake Mara at the rugby league forum in Monto. Mackenzie Colahan

NRL forums prove there's a future for bush footy

RUGBY LEAGUE: A shift in focus from the NRL could be the catalyst that kickstarts the revival of struggling clubs in the North Burnett.

A change in strategy is what country rugby league so desperately needs.

The NRL has traditionally employed a target-focused approach to growth - all that mattered was numbers.

A new, priority-driven focus aims to revolutionise game development in lacklustre areas and deliver localised results.

The North Burnett has been identified as one of these areas.

Representatives from the NRL and QRL visited Monto and Gayndah last week to begin the difficult task of reversing the sport's declining participation.

At the forums, NRL Central Queensland game development manager Richard Dugdale didn't mince his words.

He laid bare the harsh reality of the predicament country rugby league has found itself in: the good old days are over.

A former resident of Monto, he remembers the uproar when the town's cricket club dropped from from eight teams to six.

He said society had changed, the world had moved on and community clubs and competitions needed to adapt to the bitter truths of the modern sporting landscape.

"As a whole, the forums were very positive. People came with open minds and offered solutions,” Dugdale said.

"The rugby league community in the North Burnett shares a general understanding that things need to change for the sake of junior and senior rugby league.

"People are open to the big picture and comfortable to explore new options.

"Formats will need to adapt to suit the current situation.”

It's clear the Central Burnett Rugby League is at the start of a rebuilding phase.

While the NRL recommends a full-strength club have 20-25 registered players, that appears an unrealistic target for many local clubs, which are scraping by with a skeleton crew of 13.

Shorter seasons, smaller teams and dual registration to allow players to compete across multiple clubs and competitions were proposed to keep the local league alive.

Start small and worry about expansion later, was the advice of the NRL.

Dugdale said these changes had proven successful elsewhere, but required the buy-in of every club. Some will have to compromise.

The first step is developing resolute committees to drive the change.

Monto and Eidsvold's clubs lack the focal points upon which the region's established clubs are built.

These towns must identify the dedicated individuals willing to take the reigns.

If that happens, Dugdale was confident they could turn things around.

"It's going to take a team effort from everyone involved.

"Clubs without a team need to form a committee that the NRL and QRL can work with,” he said.

"Established clubs need to be flexible and compassionate to support the others.

"The key is that discussions are taking place now to allow clubs to establish strong committees and plan for the future, instead of rushing to organise just before the season when it's too late.”

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