Cronulla Sharks chief executive Steve Noyce says NRL territorial draft proposal worth another look

Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce believes the NRL must revisit the failed 2004 territorial draft proposal to open new sources of junior talent to clubs and ease the poaching that has infuriated teams such as the Wests Tigers, who invested heavily in development programs.

Sharks fans savaged Noyce's administration after Canterbury nabbed local junior Michael Lichaa, one of the NRL's rising stars. The Sharks replaced him with 30-year-old Bulldog Michael Ennis on a two-year deal reportedly worth $1million.

The former chief executive of the Tigers and Sydney Roosters also accepted four of the Sharks best juniors would be on rival clubs' radars when they trialled for the Australian Schoolboys team this weekend. He blamed century-old boundaries for the battle over young players which has plagued the code.

"That's the law of the jungle," Noyce said. "You can spend all your life complaining about it but the reality is, some areas, geographically, continue to have these territories that were [drawn up] in the early 1900s. There's not a simple answer but whilst ever you maintain a system that's, at best,  archaic, in the distribution of juniors [the problem will remain]. When I was at the Roosters, the total number of players in the Eastern Suburbs juniors was less than at a club at Penrith called the Glenmore Park Brumbies."

The territorial draft was last proposed in 2004. Under the terms, clubs would have been prevented from stockpiling talent by not being permitted to sign players until they turned 18. The clubs would have had first claim on their adopted district's best five players. The proposal fell over when clubs like Brisbane and North Queensland objected to sharing their territory.

Noyce said while he'd noted the Roosters had recently entered into an agreement with the central coast, he thought it was incredible that despite the money and resources the NRL's defending premiers had promised the area, they didn't have exclusive rights on the district's best players.

"There needs to be consideration for a territorial draft," he said. "The Roosters formed a relationship with the central coast but today I can watch the Kincumber Colts, sign their halfback and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it."

Roosters chief executive Brian Canavan said the alliance wasn't just about identifying talented players. "It's to also have an expanded territory at all levels across club work," he said. "It's also memberships, increasing crowds if there were possibly relocated games, and having a community that identifies with your club. The best aspect of an affiliation arrangement is you're utilising an NRL club brand to promote the game in more regional centres and also providing a more direct pathway for players to go from juniors to a possible NRL player in those territories. The point about affiliations is mutual desire and the benefits are two-way."

Canavan said when a club was situated in a position like the Roosters – with the ocean as one boundary and Pitt Street in the city another – alliances had appeal.

"When you have a small junior base there's a reliance on outside junior recruitment and it's an expensive exercise," he said. "It's demanding on your staff resources and there is a fair element of risk attached to it because we've got, largely, a late maturist sport. If you develop an area with the secondary affiliation model, the players stay in the area and develop at their own rate."

Penrith's general manager of football Phil Gould, whose junior base boasts 9000 players, said the bigger issue at stake was the overall development of young players and strong competitions.

"To suggest clubs should have an area of NSW they exclusively develop is a little bit naive," he said. "But, certainly, from the game's perspective, the NRL needs to get its head around game development and who is going to spend the money on it, whose going to get rewarded for it and how clubs are incentivised to keep investing in development as against those who just recruit players who've been developed by other clubs."

This story Cronulla Sharks chief executive Steve Noyce says NRL territorial draft proposal worth another look first appeared on WA Today.