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Future stars forged in the furnace of the game's suburban grounds

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JOSH Reynolds is being touted as a possible NSW Origin representative this season, but the Canterbury five-eighth admits only two years ago he was wondering if he would ever play NRL. Reynolds, who turns 24 next month, was among the overwhelming majority of NYC graduates who do not advance directly from the under-20s competition to the NRL.

In fact, only about 10 per cent of the 550 players in the Holden Cup this season will go on to play in the NRL, and for those who do the average career lasts only 43 games.


Reynolds is due to hit that mark in two weeks against Sydney Roosters but without two seasons in the NSW Cup, the Bulldogs junior doubts he would be doing so.


''I can definitely tell you I wasn't ready at the under-20s level,'' Reynolds said. ''Playing those few years in the NSW Cup really prepared me. It is really tough footy because you have got guys who play NRL and have come back so you have to step up to play against them every week.
''That definitely helped me to make the transition.''
According to statistics provided by the NSWRL, 212 players signed to NRL clubs played in the NSW Cup last season. Among them was Roosters utility Daniel Mortimer, who captained Newtown to victory in the NSW Cup grand final.
''It is a great stepping stone for those players who haven't quite made it at 20 but still have a lot to offer,'' Mortimer said. ''You only have to look at the team sheets to see all of the players with NRL experience who feature in the NSW Cup.
''That is why I think the main curtain-raiser [at NRL games] is starting to spin towards being the NSW Cup again because when you see the quality of the players and the games themselves, it doesn't get the recognition it deserves.''
A review of development pathways and competitions by former NZRL boss Jim Doyle may change that, as there is a widely held view that the second-tier NSW and Queensland Cup competitions need to have a far greater profile.
Doyle has recently concluded phase one of the project that involved ensuring all of the 16 NRL clubs, state leagues around Australia and the 24 clubs in the NSW and Queensland Cup competitions understood the purpose of the review. ''The ARL commission and [CEO] Dave Smith are really focused now on the whole of the game and not on any particular part of it so this review is very much about what is the best for the game as a whole,'' Doyle said.
One likely outcome is for the winners of the NSW Cup and Queensland Cup to play off on NRL grand final day for the Australian championship.
''That is a proposal we would strongly support,'' Storm football manager Frank Ponissi said.
''That is one way of lifting the profile of both competitions.''
However, there are many other issues that will not be as easy to resolve. Among them are:

[h=3] COST[/h] One of the reasons the NYC became the main focus of development was a belief that clubs could save money by scrapping reserve grade. However, it now costs more to run an NYC team than a second-grade side. The salary cap in the NYC is $250,000 for 20 players, while NRL clubs can spend $375,000 on second-tier players outside their top 25-man squad.
''We have got 33 players in our current NRL squad, with our top 25 and second-tier players, and of those 15 have come through our under-20s system,'' Ponissi said.
''We value that as important because it is a more economical way of bringing players into your full-time squad and also they come through the Storm way because our under-20s and under-18s are modelled on the way we train and behave.
''Having said that, there are not many of our players who have come direct from our under-20s to play in the NRL because we believe they need time in the NSW or Queensland Cup levels before they are ready.''

[h=3]GLAMOUR[/h] With Holden Cup matches being on pay television and played as the main curtain-raiser to NRL games, younger players are aspiring to play in the NYC.
It is a big advantage for the NRL over rugby union in New Zealand, but a 2011 survey undertaken by now Roosters chief executive Brian Canavan for the QRL found 11 of the 16 club coaches preferred their players to come through the NSW or Queensland Cup competitions. According to the report, most coaches felt those players had a better game sense, decision-making ability, emotional control, concentration capabilities and balance in their lives off the field.
However, former NRL star Mathew Head, who coaches Wests Tigers' SG Ball team, said many younger players focused on playing NYC.
''When I was playing, you were excited about playing junior reps and then looking forward to playing first grade but now when you talk to kids they are all thinking about trying to play under-20s because it's on TV and it has got the high profile,'' he said.
''I think once they get to under-20s some of them think they have made it and that is probably because of the big emphasis we have put on that competition and they have lost sight of the bigger picture.''

[h=3]PLAYER PAYMENTS[/h] NYC players aged between 18 and 20 can earn up to $40,000 in contract payments, living-away-from-home allowance and education grants but player payments in the NSW Cup are often less than $10,000. ''You can have a player from your NRL squad who is on $200,000 playing alongside an under-20s player who is one of your guns and might be on $45,000 to $50,000 and your poor old reserve-grader who is on $5000 to $10,000 so it is really inequitable, and that causes problems,'' one official said.
Penrith general manager Phil Gould wrote in a column for Fairfax Media last Sunday that clubs often have to include the best under-20s players in their NRL salary cap for a minimum of $75,000 to prevent other clubs poaching them, even though they are not ready to play.

[h=3]SECOND-RATE FACILITIES[/h] With major stadiums reluctant to have three grades of matches played on the same day, NSW Cup games are usually played at suburban grounds before crowds often in the hundreds.
''I remember at Canterbury we had $1.6 million worth of players playing at The Crest,'' Newcastle and former Bulldogs recruitment manager Peter Mulholland said. ''For a player to drop back from playing in front of 40,000 people at the SFS one week and the next week he is playing at Henson Park in front of 2500 is one of the most difficult things of all.''

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/future-stars-forged-in-the-furnace-of-the-games-suburban-grounds-20130329-2gyz0.html#ixzz2OvFyBITL
 

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