Phil Rothfield speaks with Head of Strategy Shane Richardson about the future of the NRL EXPANSION in three years, reduced control for the television networks in scheduling, a shorter season and no guarantees for the survival of Sydney’s nine NRL clubs. This is the Shane Richardson blueprint to fix an underperforming NRL. He wants teams from Perth, South-East Queensland and a second club in New Zealand. Plus less fixtures and stand-alone State of Origin to stop player burnout. Buzz: Let’s start with player burnout. What are you going to do about it? Richo: The code needs a clear vision for where the game should be in three, five and 10 years. Player burnout fits in that because obviously you’ve got to reduce the amount of games they play. It’s not about quantity, its quality. How much do we reduce the season by? I’ve got to test it with data the NRL has. Certainly we can reduce it to 22 games or even 20. Then look at State of Origin and stand-alone weekends. We look at the pre-season and control that a lot better. Then international football. We’ve got to lock in what we want to do then take it to the broadcasters for the next television deal. You saw Greg Inglis in the Four Nations final. I felt sorry for him. He was stuffed. He looked like he’d been in war-torn Europe by the end of it. We’ve got to make sure we don’t burn out our great athletes. That’s my point about quality, not quantity. If Origin is stand-alone, Greg can prepare for it the right way. If you don’t have as many games in a season he’s going to play better football. You know at Souths we only got about 50 per cent of season ticket-holders turning up each week. The reason for that is they cherry pick. They’re going to the better games. If you provide quality football, they’ll go. But they’re not going when Greg Inglis and other stars are not playing. You can’t back them up the next day or a few days later. How many teams should we have in the comp? We’ve got to expand. I’m not so concerned about the number of teams, it’s the number of fixtures. The bigger the expansion the better it is for the TV networks. I think Western Australia deserves a side, we need another team in South-East Queensland and New Zealand is crying out for another team. The opportunities there in the next media deal are huge. I think we can make some good decisions fairly quickly. What about the survival of Sydney clubs? I’m a fan of having all the Sydney clubs but they’ve got to be financial and stand on their own two feet. At Souths, we revamped everything to make sure we survived. We made a tough call to go to ANZ Stadium. At first we got backlash. Now we’ve got the No. 1 membership and corporates in the game. So can they all survive? Everyone’s got to raise their level. The NRL has to make sure money is spent in the right areas. At Souths, we poured our money into membership, into marketing operations and sales and grew them into an area that made the club sustainable. Dave Smith wants sustainable business models at all the clubs. At club level we’ve got to keep improving the standard of administration. Why then has the NRL taken you and Todd Greenberg out of the clubs? We have been in club land and know the problems they face. Todd and I know how difficult it is to make a dollar. Dave Smith cops a lot of criticism but you’re a fan? I could never understand why the No. 1 rating TV show on the east coast wasn’t making money. Dave’s trying to rebuild and get it to a whole new level. That’s upset a few people. Sport’s not just business because you’ve got all the weekend emotion, but Dave’s setting up great business structures. We’ve just got to take the football to another level. Some decisions will be popular, some won’t be. The important thing is that they are for the betterment of the game. You don’t sound overly enthusiastic about keeping all the Sydney clubs. My point is everyone’s got to stand on their own two feet and run a quality business and have quality corporate governance. That’s why I said I’ve got no restriction on numbers in the size of the competition. We just have to look at the quality of all the organisations to make sure they survive. You can’t keep bailing out people. So what is your vision? My vision is to have a streamlined game that marries in both the northern and southern hemispheres and delivers a product that fans want to watch. We’re only as good as the players ... we’ve got to create a competition that the players want to stay and play in. If we can create a comp that goes to another level, where they are paid a fair and reasonable wage, they are going to stay. I’d like to think in the next 18 months we’ll start to see real change and improvement. How are you and Todd Greenberg going to work together? Dave’s done a great job of clearly defining our roles. Todd’s in charge of the day-to-day running of the competition. I don’t want to be doing what Todd’s doing and he wouldn’t want to be doing what I’m doing. He’s purely operational and it’s a huge role he’s got. My job is to look to the future and plan ahead. I hope Souths won’t be getting any special favours? Will Penrith or Cronulla? I worked there, too. I love Cronulla. It was my first club. What if Russell (Crowe) rings you for a favour? He just rang before. Russell shares the same views as I do. We’ve been talking about footy for years and about where the game can be taken. Simon Moran is one of the biggest rock promoters in the world. He owns Warrington. Why aren’t we listening to some of his ideas on how to promote games. What about bush footy? I come from Cunnamulla. It’s about 12 hours west of Brisbane. I played at Kilcoy and Beaudesert. I’ve sold raffle tickets on Friday nights and done the barbecue on weekends. I’ve coached on the Gold Coast and in Cairns. I want the bloke at Gundagai and at Roma to feel engaged. What about the image of the game and player behaviour? It can be difficult. You’ve got your own kids who can often be difficult to raise. You’ve got 50 kids who start out at a footy club. Most of the best players come from tougher backgrounds. The thing is to try to create the right environment. The game does a lot in player welfare, but we’re never going to be perfect because of the society we live in. There are always going to be challenges. Players are always talking about getting bigger contracts and more money. If they are to get that we need a good image to attract and keep sponsors. NAB told me while I was in Brazil at the World Cup they pulled the pin on your club Souths because of the Jason Taylor mad Monday incident. Well, that incident didn’t help. Behaviour has been a challenge ever since I became involved in the game. You’re always waiting for that phone call at any time of the day. Did you handle the Kirisome Auva’a domestic violence incident right? I thought when he pleaded guilty he should have been stood down. We thought we did at the time. There was no precedence for us. Now the precedence has been set by the NRL at 22 weeks. That’s the minimum you are going to get for domestic violence first offence because the NRL has done something about it. How do we ensure the game keeps Sam Burgess, Sonny Bill Williams, Jarryd Hayne? You can’t just throw all this money around because at the moment only about three clubs are making a profit. Apart from just money, we’ve got to have a competition at a level where players want to stay and be part of. Sam Burgess didn’t leave us for the money. At the end of the day he left because he wanted the challenge of playing in a World Cup. Internationally, rugby league can get to that level. You have meetings in New York with the NFL and NBA. What are you trying to achieve with them? I want to look at their drafts, I’ve already looked at the AFL model. I’m a great believer in the draft, especially with expansion. I want to listen to their views on a number of topics and see what could work for the NRL. Their TV deal. Everything. To leave Souths was a huge step and I’m enthusiastic about this next role. We created a great team on and off the field and went from a rabble to win a premiership. That’s the team we have to create at the NRL to take the game to another level. THE STADIUMS Buzz: There’s a debate in Sydney about who should get the money — ANZ or Allianz — from the government to improve our stadiums. Dave Smith has spent $750,000 on a feasibility study for the Moore Park venue. What is your opinion? Richo: I like having the competition between two good stadiums. Western Sydney is a massive part of rugby league. There’s an 80,000-seat stadium at Homebush and I’m not sure the government is going to tear it down. A quality stadium in the city and western suburbs is the best idea. That’s the view I’ve already expressed to the NRL. What about a roof at ANZ? Yes, I would build one and even more important is making it a rectangular shape and getting fans closer to the action.