Door open for both Toowoomba and PNG 20s
Queensland Rugby League CEO Rob Moore has not ruled out teams from both Toowoomba and Papua New Guinea participating in the state-based under-20s competition in 2018 following the announcement on Thursday of a new NRL competition structure.
The 2017 season will be 10th and final season of the National Youth Competition with NRL head of football Brian Canavan conceding that the $10 million spent annually by clubs on their under-20s programs could be better allocated.
From 2018 under-20s competitions will be conducted in both New South Wales and Queensland and sit beneath the Intrust Super Premiership and Intrust Super Cup clubs respectively.
In turn, NRL clubs will be encouraged to form affiliations with state cup clubs which is already the case in Queensland, with the PNG Hunters and CQ Capras the only two of the 14 clubs not currently with direct NRL affiliations.
A move away from the National Youth Competition has been something the QRL has campaigned for for a number of years and will take the first steps towards the new structure with a nine-week under-20s competition aligned with existing Intrust Super Cup clubs next year.
PNG will not be represented next season with their place in the draw being taken by Toowoomba but Moore said both regions will be considered for the expanded format in 2018.
"I would hope that Toowoomba are in there and if PNG are able to be in there somehow as well," Moore told NRL.com of the potential for a 15-team 20s competition in 2018.
"There's no set number. It's up to us to work with our clubs now to work on those numbers.
"Obviously it's nice and neat for a draw if they're the same but we manage the differences in draws every year. You can manage a draw, it just makes it a little more complex."
Although Toowoomba have been represented in Cyril Connell Cup (under-16s), Mal Meninga Cup (under-18s) and FOGS Colts (under-20s) for a number of years, the timeline for a potential recall to the Intrust Super Cup looks at least five years away.
Part of the NRL's five-year plan is for both state competitions to feature 16 teams and with that to work towards Moore doesn't see the Intrust Super Cup expanding beyond its current 14-team format any earlier.
"I don't and that's something we now need to work with them on," Moore said when asked whether he saw a place for a Toowoomba team before 2022.
"The vision of 32 state cup teams and 16 NRL teams has been something that's been talked about but it was good that that has now been put in front of the commission as what we'd like to see five years down the track.
"Toowoomba at this stage have done everything right in the way of player development to get to where they are but what we need to work with them on now is the governance around the club, the structures, the feeder systems and those sorts of things.
"This is a significant difference now for the future in that Toowoomba have had Cyril Connell, Mal Meninga Cup, FOGS Colts teams for a number of years now. Now we just have to work with them to get their governance and finances right so that we can bring them through hopefully in the future as an Intrust Super Cup team.
"Toowoomba is a big catchment, Rockhampton and Central Queensland is a big catchment, and they're two of the areas that need our help and will need the help of the game."