Cowboys v Sharks
Cowboys v Sharks

Radical plan to merge rival NRL clubs

NRL clubs including arch rivals the Roosters and Rabbitohs could merge under a proposal to play fortnightly trial matches to give players outside the top 17 at each club regular match conditioning.

With the second tier competition the Canterbury Cup now abandoned for the year, clubs need to ensure all contracted 30 players are kept match fit to play NRL when required throughout the season.

Also players coming back from long injury breaks like Cronulla Sharks big names Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan or Kieran Foran at the Bulldogs would more than likely return via a trial.

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The game would be played fortnightly on Monday nights and offered to the TV networks, using the same venues where cameras and production equipment is already set up from Sunday games.

Many recognisable names and some of the most exciting young players in the game who can't quite crack the top 17 would be on show.

There is talk of having four teams - NSW Country Origin, QLD Origin, Sydney's West (Penrith, Parramatta, Wests Tigers and Canterbury) and another group from the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Dragons, Sharks, Sea Eagles and the out-of-town teams.

Coaches would pick their 21-man squads each Tuesday for weekend games then, players who miss out, would be placed in a pool for the trial games.

Assistant coaches around the clubs would be in charge of the teams.

Players struggling to crack their teams top 17 will also need match-fitness. Picture: Getty Images.
Players struggling to crack their teams top 17 will also need match-fitness. Picture: Getty Images.

The coaches would consult each other to ensure the trial teams are properly balanced with middle forwards, edge forwards, halves, outside backs and wingers.

The idea was tossed around at a recent NRL coaches' association meeting and will be discussed in further detail at the next meeting of Project Apollo on Friday.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson says all coaches were keen on the idea.

"It allows us to keep an eye on the players' form while they get their match fitness," Robinson said.

"Each club would probably provide six players and we'd rotate them to make sure everyone's going to get a game.

"They wouldn't do a lot of training together. It would be more just turning up and playing.

"Just get out there and play some footy and get some good contact work."

How merged NRL teams could look under proposal.
How merged NRL teams could look under proposal.

Last year, grand finalists the Roosters used 28 players and the Canberra Raiders used 26, the least of any team. The Penrith Panthers used most with 33.

The idea has the strong support of the RLPA and player managers.

"Some of these players will be off contract at the end of the year and playing four or five of these games will be very important to them," Robinson said.

"Most importantly it keeps them playing so they'll be ready if needed in the top 17."

RLPA chief executive Clint Newton likes the idea.

"It's already been floated at a Project Apollo meeting," Newton said.

"As long as we maintain the health and safety protocols for the players, anything that gives them an opportunity to do what they love - and that's play football - we would be 100 per cent supportive.

"Players needs the opportunity to play each week and this will help."

Originally published as Radical plan to merge rival NRL clubs