Competition plays out budget battle

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 23/09/2013

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OPINION: There is little doubt that there has been plenty of enthusiasm around the introduction of a premier South Island provincial rugby league competition in recent years but the reality is a lack of financial weight can't foster that enthusiasm.

The competition in its current state is not sustainable and while the concept is great and the players love it you have to wonder what its long-term future is.

It is very sad for all involved because believe me the people attached to this competition are not in the sport for any financial reward, it is a bubbling passion that hooks them in.

However, that passion can only take the sport so far, money is a major player whether people like it or not.

Let me explain.

At the weekend we had yet another glaring highlight as to how administrators are playing a roll and hope approach in the bid to make the competition work.

Southland were scheduled to play the Tasman Titans in Nelson on Saturday in a crunch game in the South Island competition which would decide who would play Canterbury in the final this coming weekend.

Southland the week before had made a trip in vans to Christchurch to take on Canterbury with the players and management taking the Friday off work to make the journey.

To expect them to make another van trip for a game in Nelson the following Friday was seen as too big an ask.

Southland District Rugby League chairperson Cheryl Low during the off-season searched high and low for potential income streams to help fly the team to Christchurch.

To her credit she did an impressive job in rustling up money through sponsorship from Road Safety Southland and funding from the Southern Trust.

But the money only went so far and to save on an extra night's accommodation and to also save the players from having to take a day off work on Friday they opted to fly to Nelson on the morning of the game.

This is where the roll and hope comes into play - any hiccup and there was little room to move.

Because of the electrical storm in Wellington on Friday night a plane couldn't get down to Invercargill and the Rams' Saturday morning flight was cancelled.

Southland management were able to reschedule the team to get on later flights on Saturday but they would not have arrived in Nelson until early evening.

The prospect of rescheduling the game for yesterday was talked about but the Tasman Titans already had other commitments set in place which were unable to be changed at short notice.

This was not the first time the Rams were involved in a game cancellation this season because of circumstances like this after their only home game of 2013 against West Coast was cancelled.

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The West Coast had hired mini-vans to make the trip from Greymouth to Christchurch, where they were to catch a flight to Invercargill at lunchtime on Saturday for the Sunday game.

However, a fatal crash on Arthur's Pass diverted their trip to Lewis Pass. One of their mini-vans then broke down, delaying the journey to Christchurch even longer.

By the time they got there they had missed their plane and there were no provisional funds in place to catch another flight. Because of it, West Coast had to default.

Southland chairperson Cheryl Low was frustrated with how it had played out.

"The situation is less than ideal, but as I have discovered in this job there are always many hurdles/issues that have to be overcome. The boys are really disappointed and were looking forward to this game to build on last week's result," she said. "This year's inter-district comp really highlights the issues we face in the South Island with trying to establish a credible and viable competition on a shoestring budget."

NZRL Southern Zone general manager Steve Martin also acknowledged it was disappointing.

"Whilst the situation of the game Southland v Tasman is unfortunate, it is a reality of the challenges faced with moving teams from one end of the South Island to the other when unique situations with air flights like this occur and that are beyond the control of teams."

In my opinion the NZRL at board level need to take stock and at the end of this season investigate how important they view the South Island provincial competition and where they see its long-term future.

While it does not have any glitz and glamour attached to it in the main centres for districts like Southland, Otago, West Coast and Tasman it is the pinnacle and provides the players and administrators in those regions with something to strive for.

But the South Island competition is being undermined because of the financial squeeze and the NZRL need to invest in it further if they view it as important to the sport in this country.

The positive for Southland is Saturday's game against Tasman was determined as a draw under the competition rules which means the Rams still progress to the final next Saturday against Christchurch.

However, yet again finances will probably dominate much of the talk in the buildup.

With the game set to be played in Christchurch it will mean another long van trip to Christchurch on Friday for the Saturday game with flying likely to be out of the question.

Rams coach Greg Dawson told The Southland Times on Friday it provided some challenges and he felt for the players who are eager to do well for Southland.

"They are just doing it for the love of it and they are proud to represent their province and wear the Southland jersey, that is great. But last Friday they all had to take a day off work, and that's a day's pay for them. That commitment is great but it would be nice to take that all away from them and just let them concentrate on the field without having to ring their bosses," Dawson said.

"It would be great to say 'you've made us proud we're flying up on Friday night and have a good night's rest before the final on Saturday."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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