The Australian bush has been "screaming out for top-level footy for what seems like an eternity" and its prayers "are set to be answered" next season as seven country towns in Queensland and NSW host National Rugby League games as part of the '18 draw, according to Brent Read of THE AUSTRALIAN. Premiership matches will be played in the NSW towns of Mudgee, Tamworth, Bathurst and Gosford next year, as well as in Gladstone, Toowoomba and Cairns in Queensland. It is the most games in regional centers "in the history of the premiership." Gold Coast Titans, which will be without a home ground for the opening month of the season due to the Commonwealth Games, "will take matches to Gladstone and Toowoomba." The Titans, which are being sold by the NRL, "remain in discussions with the state government over a stadium deal" for '18 and beyond. South Sydney will continue its "recent tradition" of taking games to Cairns and St. George Illawarra will host a match in Mudgee, "which will also host the annual Charity Shield match -- between the Rabbitohs and Dragons." NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said that the NRL worked with the clubs and Country Rugby League to "maximise the number of bush matches" in '18. He said, "We have said for some time it was our strong desire to take more games to regional venues in 2018, and we're extremely happy to have been able to do that as part of the new schedule" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 10/13).
Leagues and Governing Bodies
The "spike in the number of high-profile injuries" sustained by Premiership Rugby players could have been a result of the introduction of the global law changes, which research by the Rugby Football Union said has led to a more "attritional" form of rugby, according to Gavin Mairs of the London TELEGRAPH. The RFU’s professional rugby department compiled the data "in response to growing concerns over the concerning trend" that has led to many clubs being "without their best players for long periods of the season." The RFU will show the new data to World Rugby, "underlining the impact" it is having on the game in the U.K. and the effect it is having on the national setup. RFU Dir of Professional Rugby Nigel Melville commissioned the "game trends summary data" in a bid to discover whether there was "any direct link between the number of injuries and the introduction of the new laws in the northern hemisphere in August." The research confirmed, however, that there has been a "major change to the way the game is being played by English clubs in direct comparison with the first five rounds of last season," including a spike of 11.4% in the average number of tackles per match (up from 150 to 167), the "area of the game that leads to the majority of injuries" (TELEGRAPH, 10/11).
PIVOTAL MONTH AHEAD: The PA's Duncan Bech reported the Rugby Players' Association "wants to implement a combined 14-week break" and preseason to protect its members from the "growing demands of the game." Next month "is shaping up to be a pivotal month in negotiations over the new global calendar." The RPA will meet on Nov. 6 to "hammer out its position" before the Professional Game Board convenes three weeks later to discuss all proposals. RPA CEO Damian Hopley has been visiting Premiership clubs to take a "temperature check of where everything is at." He insisted that the threat of strike action raised by England players Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, Joe Marler and former RFU Dir of Professional Rugby Rob Andrew, "while unlikely, is an option" (PA, 10/12).
Four-day matches "would not be a feature" of cricket's new Test championship due to a need to "ensure all games across its two-year cycle are scheduled for the same duration," according to Chris Barrett of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. Int'l cricket "is on the precipice of a new dawn" as the board of the Int'l Cricket Council meets in Auckland on Friday to "ratify the introduction of a World Test Championship" from '19 and a one-day league championship from '20. After years of "failed bids to execute change, the approval of the proposals would be a significant moment in the game's history" and there is confidence that "enough momentum has been gained to get them over the line." Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland and CA Chair David Peever "have been prominent campaigners for the championship initiatives," which would see all matches count for points on league tables and "culminate in the leading two teams of the respective formats playing off in a final" (SMH, 10/12).
FOLLOW THE LEADER: The AFP reported a top ICC official "has urged cricket bodies around the world to follow Australia's lead and dramatically raise wages for women's players" to stop them from dropping out of the sport. Clare Connor, the former England captain who now heads the ICC's women's committee, said that other countries "must match Australia's eight-fold increase in wages." Connor said, "We are all going to think very seriously of how well our players are remunerated. Because if we don't look after them they will go and choose other sports or other professions and that will be a tragedy" (AFP, 10/12).