Generation gap looms

SOround twois here and experts are already pronouncing who is and isn’t in the running forend-of-year honours. A tad premature, but some signs were very positive for a few teams.

Others faced the reality of first time at bat –a work in progress.

I thought the Bulldogs were the most impressive of last week’s winners, with the Cowboys,Broncos and the Bunnies assuming obvious favouritism out of the gates.

The Dogs demonstrated unequivocallyto those who still wonder whether the big men candominate in an increasingly endurance-based game. Agood, mobile big man will beat a good,mobile smaller bloke most days of the week. Monstering the Bozo-built Manly outfit leftrival packs sitting up to take notice.

As to our own work in progress, you’d have to say that no one disgraced themselves againstthe Titans. Ithought the young Knights, apart from too many badly timed foot-shootingepisodes, were threatening to get back in the game at different stages. Some good signs.

The debutants had a real good crack and will benefit from the experience. Tri-captain and elder statesmanJeremy Smith, Robbie Rochow andTyler Randell all played strongly.

I’m guessing the collective concern for Knights fans may be whether the Coast are much of a team anyway. Excluding former NovocastriansGreg Bird,Zeb Taia and Tyrone Roberts, they didn’t have a great deal going for them either. But, really,you can’t take too much from the first game. So we’ll move on.

Nowfor the Bunnies. Our young Knights will take some comfort from a few injuries to the2014 premiers and the potential bonus that Greg Inglis may not be risked in a game puntersmight expect them to dominate.

But with their halfback and maestro out with a broken jaw and his five-eighthpartner new to thesquad, there is a chance, with the right disruptive game plan, that their combination andkicking game might be vulnerable. My tip: apotential upset if our Knights win the enthusiasm, major on the basics andeach bring something a little special to the table on Saturday.

* THOSEwho follow junior rugby league might recall an announcement late last year bythe NSWRLciting the season’s participation figures, which implied the game’s governingbody is asleep at the wheel.

Stalwarts of the junior game will be unsurprisedthe numbers were down –way down –continuing a trend of the past decade at least.

As the kids prepare to kickoff a new season, it begs the question, what’s to be done? Ifanything? At the 10s and 11s level the studyshows significant loss of more than20 per cent. In theunder-13s and -14s, participation falls off a cliff and never recovers. Thankfully, courtesy of agreat new freeway, Newcastle teams can far more easily access the Hunter Valley, meaning the now-combined Hunter competition has been able to buck the trend –for now.

Clearly, the magnitude of churn is unsustainable. Of concern for the senior game is,eventually, I imagine, that the absent generations of players will impact its quality potential andvery survival.

And we are seeing evidence of that already.

Take the Newcastle Rugby League district competition. After contracting to an ungainly eightteams last year, there is strong mail others are struggling financially. Something tells me thiscompetition needs a proper re-think.

At the suburban level, second-division teams are struggling to put teams together also. Workcommitments and other distractions see district and suburbs engage in tug-of-wars overthedwindling pool of remaining players. This is made all the more difficult becausethe Real NRL insistupon an outdated three-open-age-teams criteria for inclusion. Something must give.

And it has. Last year’s second-division A-grade winners, Belmont Rabbits, are finished. Likewise,B-grade premiersLambtonaregone,and finally the C-grade premiers, Clarence River, won’tfield a team this year.Gone. With others rumoured to be unable to get enough playerstogether, there is real concern local communities will lose something they may never get back.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE: If grassroots rugby league continues to whither, what will become of Generation Next?

For those interested in the situation, my point is this:at the non-NRL level, the game isapproaching atipping point, beyond which recovery will be difficult. At this point in time itmight have just enough scale, influence and community connection to retrieve the situation.

But only with the right plan, leadership and will to change for the better.

At the national level, the junior game must force a whole-of-game summit. Let’s geteverything on the table. Let’s hear from the volunteer brigade who effectively sustain thegame. Let’s look at the research. How can we get womenmore involved (and not just onthe canteen)? How can we improve safety,improve coaching, nutrition, health,andsupportgovernance and fund raising?

Let’s hear from the National Rugby League; the Australian Rugby League Commission; thestate leagues and the Country Rugby League. Can they help find asolution?

After the NRL cashed in recently witha $1 billion TV deal, I find ithard to swallow that the junior game has nothing but the sweat of the volunteerbrow to sustain it.

Again, the call from the junior system must be sustained and loud, for though their eyes maybe closed, they can’t so easily close their ears.

In closing, I thought it illustrative last week after commenting on the Mitchell Pearce case thatmost online responses centred on why I would support him, or whether the ultimate penaltywas fair or otherwise. Not one comment questioned the wisdom (or naiveté) of myassertions relating to the encouraged illegality or immorality of spy-caming private citizensfor reward. Not one.

What does that say about the modern “us”? Am I to accept that no one cares that theseintrusions are now OK? Views may be different if you had to walk a mile in a victim’s shoes.

If you have an opinion on this please comment. I’m really interested.

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