In a move that mirrors American football’s Pro-Bowl, the NSWRL has announced that the league’s three senior grand finals will be played a week before the NRL Grand Final in a triple-header at Allianz Stadium.
The VB NSW Cup, Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield deciders will all be held on Sunday, September 28, kick-starting a week of celebrations in the build-up to the NRL Grand Final on the October long weekend.
The winners of the NSW Cup will then take on the premiers of Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup a week later as a curtain raiser to the NRL’s main event that will reignite interstate rivalries and provide for fascinating comparisons between the two competitions.
NSWRL Chief Executive David Trodden made the announcement at a function that included NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley and former great Brad Fittler, as well as representatives from every senior club.
“It’s an exciting day for rugby league in NSW,” said Trodden. “Being able to come together to play all of our senior grand finals at such a prestigious venue is a significant step forward for the entire organisation.”
Trodden also revealed all three grand finals will be broadcast live on radio (on Sydney’s 2GB) for the first time, while Fox Sports will continue to televise the NSW Cup final live.
Both Daley and Fittler said they were pleased with the moves the NRL has made in prioritising the VB NSW and Intrust Super Cups as rugby league’s clear second-tier competitions.
“It’s very important that significance is placed on this competition, and the exposure it’s now going to get will just confirm to everyone that there are future stars running around in the NSW Cup,” said Daley.
The Blues mentor pointed to James Maloney and Josh Reynolds, who both made their NSW debuts last year after spending at least one season in NSW Cup, as examples of players who had gone on to star in the NRL despite not progressing directly to first grade via the national under-20s competition.
“Players now think that this is a prestigious competition, they want to be part of it and know that if you don’t make the NRL after 20 years of age there is a competition for you that won’t give up on you."
Fittler, who played 31 Origins for the Blues and is the current City Origin coach, also welcomed the added exposure the lower grade competitions are set to receive.
“When I was coaching there was the mentality that if you didn’t make the NRL straight from the -20s, your career could’ve been pretty much over. So the fact that we’ve tinkered with it and brought the NSW Cup just up under the NRL where it should be, I think that’s a much better pathway and players and kids who are 18,19 and 20 a lot more hope of chasing an NRL club.”
Also announced at the event was the NSWRL’s partnership with the Starlight Children’s Foundation, which will see NSW Cup clubs contribute to the charity and Round 8 of the competition being dedicated to the foundation.