Andrew Bryan, NRL.com
Former Queensland and Australia representative Ben Ikin believes Rugby League has never been in better shape and has thrown his support behind the new NRL Auckland Nines tournament launched at Rugby League Central on Wednesday.
Ikin, who played 150 games in first grade, 17 for Queensland in State of Origin and two tests for Australia says the new Tournament is a great move for the future of the game.
“Rugby League was born out of innovation way back in 1907,” Ikin told NRL.com.
“Those blokes got together and decided they wanted something better. Over the last 100 plus years the game has continued to grow and evolve.
“Essentially the game has been brave enough to tinker with our product and that has been the key driver of Rugby League and what it has become. We haven’t been happy to stay with the status quo.
“This is another example of a bit of lateral thinking, I know Rugby Union has a sevens format, but what we have done is had a look at our competition and make a courageous decision to start our season with a new and exciting tournament in a market we are looking to grow.
“That is the thing I love about Rugby league, it is forever changing and evolving.”
The announcement of the NRL Auckland Nines comes off the back of a renewed focus on the strategic priorities for the game with a number of projects underway such as the elite pathways review and the salary cap review.
The NRL has also been looking at ways it can do more to directly engage fans through innovative social media campaigns like State of Origin’s Mission Control and the NRL Nation, an online research community to engage fans on key issues in the game.
Ikin believes the NRL has made massive strides forward for the future of the sport.
“Since the introduction of the Commission and the new funding from the broadcast rights deal, I can see a great platform being laid for future growth,” Ikin continues.
“We have money that we have never had, we have governance that we haven’t had for a long time, we have an executive team running the game that has big business experience, it is set up to see this game be the best it can be.
“By the time we start negotiating our next rights deal, the Rugby League business will be so much better and stronger than the one that existed in 2012 when the Commission first started.”
The recent partnership deal with Touch Football is further evidence of the game getting strategically smarter and Ikin says it is sign the administration is set to take the game to new heights.
“Touch football is such a great fit,” he said.
“I have four kids and there is only one of them who really enjoys contact sport and she is a six-year-old girl. The others aren’t that fussed, but those who don’t like the contact but still love the game, Touch football is the perfect place for the family to stay involved in the game.
“It is great for participation. The challenge for young mums has always been ‘I see what happens on the field on a Friday night, I don’t want that happening to my young son’, but now, they can say I love Rugby League, how about you play touch footy and you are still part of the Rugby League family.
“It opens up more avenues for people to connect with the game and get involved in their NRL club. It also gives new ways to learn the skills of Rugby League by giving a platform that encourages attacking and innovative play. There is a different dynamic, it encourages footwork and we’ve seen guys like Benji Marshall and Shaun Johnson transfer those skills over to the NRL.”