Written by Stuart McLennan
Former Origin and Kangaroo star Paul Sironen would like more NRL players in the twilight of their careers to take up captain/coach roles at country clubs to help boost the sport in the regions.
Sironen, who had a stint with Blayney Bears in 1999 after returning from France where he played with Villeneuve, suggests the NRL could help revive the practice that has become less prevalent in the full time professional era.
“I would love to see it, (happen more frequently), as it was commonplace 25 years ago,” ‘Siro’ told Everything Rugby League.
“Perhaps the NRL could assist with a transition period for players who want to captain/coach in the bush. It helps young players develop in the bush as well.
“It creates more interest in the team and hopefully increases crowds. Country people get to cheer or boo a player that may have played for their favourite team in first grade.”
The big second rower has fond memories of his time with Blayney in a season where the club made the Grand Final, ultimately losing 30-16 to the Orange Hawks.
“A couple of guys I knew from France went to play and asked if I was interested.
“It was an enjoyable stint. I was renovating my home and travelled up Saturdays for training and headed home Sunday nights after playing. I played with some handy ex NRL players, Jason Darcy, Bubba Kennedy and Bert Gordon to name a few. The standard of footy was pretty good. I still get the occasional bloke coming up saying they played me when they were young blokes from Cowra or Mudgee etc”
Sadly the Blayney Bears made the decision in 2021 not to compete in the top tier of the Group 10 competition, entering a reserve grade team only.
In a recent interview with the Blayney Chronicle, Blayney Bears Vice President Damon Taylor indicated the club would need a great financial year before they could return to the top grade.
“It’s always sad to see clubs unable to field teams. It’s getting harder with young guys working and risk of injury but ultimately it’s about sponsorship money and support from the locals,” the Balmain Tigers legend said.
Regional centres have been a focus for the past few weeks with NRL matches being played in Mudgee and Bathurst. They are part of a program of six matches in country centres in 2021.
Sironen, who has two sons playing NRL, Curtis at Manly and Bailey NZ Warriors, attended the Mudgee match between Manly and the Gold Coast and is enthusiastic about the impact on the region.
“There is a real buzz around the community leading into a game but it’s the money that is injected into the town that boosts local businesses. City people should travel out more as it’s a great weekend and ask the locals how much they appreciate extra business.”
Based on economic data, the Mid Western Regional Council estimated $1.3 million was spent by visitors throughout the region at accommodation, retail outlets, cafes and restaurants across the weekend. On top of that the Manly club participated in clinics for kids and held open training sessions.
Reports have emerged that NRL Chair Peter V’landys will implement a ‘Save The Bush’ blueprint to be unveiled to all NRL CEOs in Brisbane during Magic Round.
The concept, to be totally funded by League Central, involves each NRL club taking on a region across the state.
All 16 NRL clubs would be provided funding to establish their own rugby league academy in a designated country town or towns.
The former NSW Blues forward is a fan of NRL clubs working in country centres on mutually beneficial initiatives.
“Clubs can sign deals with regions that are beneficial for all. Think (Wests)Tigers in Tamworth and (Penrith) Panthers in Bathurst. It helps with the development of local players and creates an attachment to a club where locals can be converted into members and increase merchandise sales etc.”