Over the weekend the Murdoch press in Sydney and
Brisbane took to the Australian Rugby League with a very large stick over
the cost of including the Eels Nathan Hindmarsh in the Kangaroos touring team
and then having to call Craig Wing from the beaches of Hawaii to replace
him.

All up the exercise probably cost over $30,000, a drop
in the bucket for the game’s administrators. I suspect the entourage of
ARL/NSWRL/QRL officials who are in the UK will cost much
more. But you have to wonder if the games administrators will
ever get their priorities right.

The Murdoch press also revealed over the weekend that
rugby league is under real pressure in far north Queensland from Australian
Rules.
And I am getting reports from Crikey readers that the
game is under siege in regional and rural New South Wales and Queensland from a
cashed up AFL and there is some evidence soccer’s A-League is having a real impact in
schools in metropolitan areas.

In far north Queensland
– the heartland of the Cowboys – the AFL employs five full time development
officers. In the same territory, the QRL employs just two. And schools on Cape York wanting to play Aussie rules
are issued with free goal posts, equipment and get trips to
Brisbane funded
by the AFL and AFLQ.

This has led the Cowboys Development Officer, Dave
Maiden, to risk incurring the wrath of a QRL administration that
is increasingly intolerant of criticism, by rightly pointing out that the AFL is having a real impact in rugby league
heartland and unless the ARL gets
its act together, Aussie rules might swamp the code in
the far north within 10 years. Given the success of the Cowboys – on and off
the field – that would be an extraordinary development.

And what has been the response of the ARL/QRL? It has
promised to submit as application for one more development officer “when the new
television arrangements kick in” in 2006-2007.

So while the Kangaroos swan around England and France in first
class luxury, the challenge to the game’s future where it really counts grows
year by year.

And how much more will the AFL be able to inject into
challenging rugby league when it signs up to a new television deal in the coming
weeks?

If the best rugby league can promise out of its much
vaunted new television agreement with Nine is the
possibility of one more development officer to meet a critical challenge, just
how good a deal is it? Or is it a case of rugby league’s administrators getting
their priorities dreadfully wrong?