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NRL restructures second-tier competitions

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 17/11/2016 Matt Encarnacion

State-based leagues in NSW and Queensland will replace the under 20s as the premier second-tier competition from 2018 onwards, the NRL has confirmed.

Nine years after the inaugural underage league was heralded as the best of its kind in the country, next year's Holden Cup season will be the last.

Figures showing the NRL is a late-maturing sport, together with issues around the welfare of aspiring talents, forced the governing body to restructure is pathways programs.

The 14 clubs in last season's Intrust Super Cup in Queensland, together with the 12 in the Intrust Super Premiership in NSW, are expected to kick off in two years.

However, Fiji is considered a strong chance to be included in the NSW competition by then, an expansion the NRL envisions will only grow.

The likes of Toowoomba, the Northern Territory and Western Australia have been pencilled as potential candidates to join Queensland's league.

While for NSW, another Pacific nation, a second New Zealand team and regional clubs are possible ways to help players remain at home before signing NRL deals.

It's also hoped NSW NRL clubs will affiliate with a second-tier team in Queensland in order to house hand-picked juniors, with NRL clubs in the Sunshine State returning the favour for southern sides.

"The new model is designed to provide a clearer pathway for elite junior players aiming to play in the NRL," head of football Brian Canavan announced on Thursday.

"We have been concerned for some time about the welfare issues affecting many young players struggling to cope with the pressures of the (National Youth Competition).

"This model will enable juniors to stay at home, rather than having to move away from their families, to play rugby league.

"And it will enable us to expand the game into regional and neighbouring overseas countries which we envisage will become part of the new state-based competitions."

Under the new set-up, clubs will be spared the heavy costs of operating an under-20s team, with the second-tier clubs being handed the responsibility of the underage talents.

It is understood the NRL will also save about $5 million, to be redistributed to the second-tier clubs as part of a grant for the state-based competition.

Under-18s and under-16s leagues will also fall under the second tier.

The reforms are likely to work hand-in-hand with talks surrounding collective bargaining agreements, with NRL squad sizes a topical point, including a ceiling on teenagers.

Negotiations also continue on possible salary limitations for the state cup and youth cups.

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