Australia announces national club premiership
ESPN Staff
December 10, 2013

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The Australian Rugby Union has launched the National Rugby Championship to enhance the pathway to develop elite players, coaches and match officials, with the inaugural competition to run from August to October 2014 to complement the Premier Rugby competitions in Sydney and Queensland.

"This is a major vote of confidence in Australian rugby," Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver said.

"This competition, which will include eight to ten teams from major population centres from across Australia, will also offer the opportunity to introduce innovative rules to the game to improve the spectacle for our fans.

"This new competition will be a tremendous opportunity for rugby fans to support teams from across the country in a local competition that we hope will rival New Zealand's ITM Cup and South Africa's Currie Cup at a time of year when there is little local rugby being played."

Rugby Union Players Association chief executive Greg Harris said the players' union was "very excited and optimistic about the long-term benefits that a high-level, national competition can deliver to the game competitively and commercially".

"This new competition will give all non-Wallaby Super Rugby players an opportunity to continue to develop their skills in elite match conditions, and will provide an opportunity for an additional 150 players to experience rugby in a semi-professional environment," Harris said.

Pulver officially announced the competition at a press conference on Tuesday, but he had told the tournament broadcasters, Fox Sports, previously in an exclusive interview that "we expect to have teams participating from Perth, Canberra and Melbourne ... a north Brisbane team and a south Brisbane team, in Sydney, maybe three or four teams which will be most likely regionally based, and look it's even possible we could have a country team in this competition".

Pulver denied the professional third-tier would affect adversely traditional club competitions because it would kick-off after the Sydney and Brisbane competitions had concluded, ensuring all players were available for their clubs throughout the finals. "We were very concerned about making sure this competition did nothing to impede the integrity of those competitions, particularly Brisbane and Sydney," Pulver told Fox Sports.

Pulver reiterated his belief that the new competition would not be condemned to the scrapheap after just one season, as happened to its predecessor, the Australian Rugby Championship, because Fox Sports and Foxtel "actually contribute real money to support this competition whereas back in the days of the ARC we actually had to pay to have these games broadcast".

The ARU now is seeking expressions of interest from existing clubs wanting to compete in their own right, clubs wanting to form a syndicate with other organisations such as universities, and individuals who would like to apply for a place in the competition. Expressions of interest close on January 13, 2014, to be followed by a formal tendering process.

Successful bidders will be announced by the end of February 2014, with selection based on criteria including: financial performance; professional team staffing structure and environment; commitment to player development; venue facilities; links to Super Rugby clubs; and current or potential fan base.

Bill Pulver hopes the premiership can become Australia's ITM Cup © Getty Images
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