New start for National Rugby Championship

RUGBY UNION 

ARU chief executive Bill Pulver insists steps have been put in place to ensure the National Rugby Championship won't be a financial disaster when the concept is rebooted in 2014.

Pulver is confident Australia will have a domestic competition to rival New Zealand's ITM Cup and South Africa's Currie Cup.

The ill-fated Australian Rugby Championship didn't survive past its inaugural 2007 season but Pulver says the proposed new model, to run between August and November next year, won't drain the pockets of the cash-strapped ARU.

A broadcasting and sponsorship deal with Fox Sports and Foxtel will cover the cost of running the competition.

All prospective entities must prove they're financially viable to a commission, which will then settle on eight to 10 teams by the end of February.

Meanwhile, the pressure is off in regards to attracting crowds, with gate revenue to be a bonus rather than a requirement for the model to work.

The deal with Fox is for a minimum of two years, but Pulver is confident the NRC will become an established and vital component of Australian rugby.

"This competition will be in place forever. It's an important step for the future of rugby," he said. "This agreement with Fox Sports is a giant leap forward.

"It's sufficient to cover the Australian Rugby Union's costs of running the comp."

It's expected there will be a team from Perth, Melbourne and Canberra, north and south Brisbane teams, three Sydney sides and potentially a NSW country outfit.

In Sydney and Brisbane it's likely existing club sides will pool together to form joint ventures, with Manly, Warringah, Norths and Gordon to potentially form a North Harbour team.

Pulver said all elite Super Rugby players not representing the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship would be expected to play in the NRC, with remaining roster spots to be filled by the best local talent available.

Previously Australia's Super Rugby players not involved with the Wallabies have had nothing to do after August, but this concept is designed to have them playing more quality rugby.

The commission would play a role in spreading talent evenly through the teams.

"It will come under their existing ARU contract and we're working closely with RUPA [players' association]," Pulver said.

"There's 175 players in Super Rugby, one-fifth will go into the Wallabies program, the other four-fifths will participate in this competition. Beyond that we expect at least 150 players to get experience at an elite level of the game.

"These are young players with potential coming through who, in New Zealand and South Africa, get extraordinary experience ... ideally accelerating their development." 

AAP

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