The Stakeholders Review paints a bleak picture of the true state of age-level rugby league in country NSW.
The Stakeholders Review paints a bleak picture of the true state of age-level rugby league in country NSW.

CRL loses fight for juniors

IN the same week the Sydney Swans announced they are to establish an AFL Northern Coast Academy at Novotel Pacific Bay Resort, a little-known report tabled at Country Rugby League’s annual conference has laid bare the decaying state of the football code once called the ‘pride of the bush’.

The 2010 Stakeholders Review was prepared using information collated from six regional areas of country New South Wales and its contents are so explosive, few league operatives – including grass roots development officers – know all the findings.

Among the more contentious issues, the report suggests ‘an overkill of attention at the primary level’ and says it’s time to reduce primary school visits to promotions only, with mass-produced giveaways replacing all attempts to re-ignite the playing of the game in the place it was once almost mandatory as an activity for growing kids.

If that doesn’t already suggest the white flag is being hoisted in the face of relentless encroachment by AFL apostles spreading their gospel, the insistence future drives in high schools ‘should be more based on retention rather than recruitment’ has left long-time rugby league diehards such as former CRL coach Peter Barrett, totally gobsmacked.

“If that is what the on-the-ground blokes running the game are saying, then it proves CRL has totally lost the plot,” he said.

“That’s defeatist talk and shows they have no confidence in our game and don’t know how to make decisions.

“Kids have to start wearing boots when they are in primary school and it’s a disgrace if the report is recommending the kids are hit with cheap souvenirs to keep their interest, instead of giving them competition.

“Soccer, AFL and the rugby people don’t have that attitude and continue to outstrip us; at some schools around Coffs, the kids play all the footy codes except ours.”

While attempts have been made to keep the report under wraps, copies have turned up in the hands of a limited number of officials who see it as a raw example of decades of administrative bungling, dithering and a lack of knowledge of what to do next.

Many are appalled the report is only now making certain recommendations that rival codes have adopted long ago.

Barrett said he was taken aback at the ‘retention rather than recruitment’ line.

“We have no hope of retaining kids when the others are out there recruiting them,” he growled.

“The trouble with the CRL is once you get rid of the dead wood, blokes with the same wrong attitude turn up in their place.

“All they do is sit on their backsides and skite how we’ve got the best product and expect somebody to just turn up . . . it doesn’t work that way.

“This week, the AFL have had Kevin Sheedy and Paul Roos running around the place, mixing with the kids, making a fuss of them and telling them how important they are to the game.

“But whenever our boys get together at rep games, the CRL blokes hang around in their own clique to get on the drink and slap each other on the back about how good they all are . . . and wouldn’t think about walking down with the players and coaches.

“The real problem is they look unprofessional when compared to how the AFL or even the soccer mob run the show.”

Part of the review stressed the importance of volunteers.

Locally, the AFL continues to increase its professional staffing levels to assist their own volunteers with many more to come from next month when the Academy hits its stride.

“I’m not blaming our local blokes, the people in Group 2 who keep the game going with little or no resources,” Barrett stressed.

“The problem is at the top, the fish rots from the head first and that includes the blokes in Newcastle . . . their influence over the rest of us is ridiculous.

“When I was coaching North Coast and Oxley Pioneers, trying to get these blokes to return your phone calls was nearly impossible and caused me endless frustration.”

This is backed up by numerous local officials who claim calls to CRL contacts go unanswered or unreturned.

Recently, a council official asked the Coffs Coast Advocate to use ‘contacts’ in an attempt to get a (named) CRL official to reply to emails and messaging.

Note: While the subject matter in the 2010 Stakeholders Review was discussed with a number of employed staff, their confidentiality was maintained after a previous CRL Development Officer was threatened with dismissal for commenting on a similar story.

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