I cannot help but be excited by the changes to the VB NSW Cup competition, which will see it move closer to a traditional second-grade competition.
I believe it is the right direction for the competition to head. Ultimately, I believe it will not only improve the standard of the VB NSW Cup, but also the longer-term prospects of the NSW team, as part of a more genuine pathway for elite players.
This year, the VB NSW Cup will be a second-tier competition, on many occasions played just before the NRL game. That will certainly give the competition more kudos. Some players don’t mature until they’re much older than 20, and I know that having them in the spotlight – playing before the first-graders – will be something that the NRL coaches will like. Those players will put more pressure on the NRL players.
I’m excited by the changes because they will improve the pathways program for the NSWRL.
For me, the VB NSW Cup is a very strong pathway for the guys coming out of the under-20s system; those who haven’t yet established themselves as NRL players, who haven’t quite developed but who still have the ability to do so.
Most of those coming out of the under-20s system have not been playing against developed bodies. In the VB NSW Cup, they have a good opportunity to play against hardened guys who have played first grade before and been in and around that tough competition for many years. It’s another step up for the 21- and 22-year-olds, to get them ready to go into first grade. Jumping from the under-20s straight into first grade can be too big a step for many players.
The importance of the competition is highlighted, for me, through two players who I selected for the State of Origin series last year. James Maloney and Josh Reynolds have both used this pathway successfully to progress into the NRL and now the NSW squad.
That shows there is a pathway from the VB NSW Cup into the NSW squad, if players are prepared to work hard and try to improve. All those players in the VB NSW Cup should be striving to break into the NRL, or perhaps press for higher honours.
The VB NSW Cup is now deemed a second-tier competition, but more than that, the winner will now take on the corresponding winner in Queensland on grand final day. I think that is a terrific concept. It’s an added incentive for the players and the clubs, and I’m sure the national final will have a large following.
Plenty of people will have an increased interest in the VB NSW Cup competition this year; not only the NRL coaches trying to breed the next generation of first-graders but also the supporters hoping to catch a glimpse of a future James Maloney or Josh Reynolds.
There are many reasons for the players to perform well; to make the mid-season representative side, to keep their NRL dream alive, to be picked up by another clubs.
I’ll be sitting back and looking forward to watching the standard of the competition improve this year. And I am convinced that it will.