LEEDS RHINOS chief executive Gary Hetherington returned impressed from a two-week fact-finding mission in Australia.
Hetherington travelled to the other side of the world to watch the opening round of the NRL season and share ideas with leading figures in the game Down Under.
Reflecting on his annual trip, Hetherington said: “It’s very useful to keep up to speed with what’s going on in the NRL, both on and off the field.
“I managed to watch six games live as well as visiting the chief executives, head coaches and staff at Brisbane Broncos, Newcastle Knights and Sydney Roosters. I was also able to meet up with a number of player managers and officials of the NRL.
“I was keen to look at a number of areas to see how they correspond with how we do things at the Rhinos and here in Super League. Of particular interest was the clubs’ and NRL’s focus on membership growth, their player development pathway, how the community game is structured and the role of the NRL club in its area and the impact of new rule changes and changes to coaching methods.
“Most notably, I was also interested in the governance of the game by the new Independent Commission, the player market, effect of their salary cap increase and the attraction of English players to the NRL.”
Hetherington, pictured far right, observed: “The NRL is very strong and enjoying a boom time. Their new TV deal is providing each of the 16 clubs with an Aus7m dollar annual grant and every club is reporting increased membership, with big clubs like Brisbane Broncos and South Sydney just short of 30,000 each.
“Rugby league is the most watched sport on TV in New South Wales and Queensland, plus both the Melbourne and New Zealand markets are seeing significant growth.
“The English players like the Burgess brothers, Gareth Widdop (right) and James Graham (left) are rated highly and with Super League games shown live on TV, the interest in our competition and our players has increased too.
“Recent rule changes have had an effect and the game is tough, quick and more entertaining than ever. I’ve no doubt the leading teams in Super League would compete in the NRL, but they do have the advantage of much larger talent pools of young players and very effective player development pathways. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of rugby league in the southern hemisphere is their governance of the game. The Independent Commission is responsible for the whole sport, with the NRL as its flagship competition and they govern with authority and a style to be admired.”