NSW Country Eagles general manager Andrew Blades believes the National Rugby Championship holds a valuable place in the rugby landscape and hopes it is here to stay.
Speaking after the Eagles’ clash with Queensland Country, the 1999 World Cup winner said the competition plays an important role in preparing young and emerging talent for the rigours of Super Rugby.
“I think it’s really important because the Shute Shield competition in Sydney is very popular but I think when the best guys from that step into this and they realise how much bigger and more developed the full-time athletes are that they play against, it shows them the work that they’ve got to do if they want to take the next step,” Blades said.
“That’s for me the really important thing around the NRC. It’s only a short competition but it gives those guys a taste of what they need to do and realise that they can be the stars at Shute Shield level but they’ve got to really put the hard yards in to take the next step up to Super Rugby.”
The Eagles didn’t soar to the heights they’d hoped in 2018, but on the whole Blades said it has been an enjoyable season.
“On the field we haven’t finished games very well. We’ve been in most games and we’ve haven’t been able to finish them off which is obviously disappointing after the last couple of years of being near the top of the competition,” he said.
“But from a team point of view it’s been really enjoyable in terms of being able to get to all these areas and engage with the kids and all our guys have really enjoyed that side of things and doing the coaching clinics.”
He admitted it was disappointing having several players unavailable for Saturday’s clash after the Waratahs withdrew them to put them in cotton wool in preparation for next year’s Super Rugby campaign.
“I understand their point of view that those guys are carrying niggles and everything like that. It’s just disappointing for our guys in terms of the last game of the season wanting to put the best team we can on the park and obviously reward Tamworth for hosting us,” Blades said.
He did though add that it gave a couple of their under-20s the chance to have a run around and “see the big step up it’s going to be for them in the future”.
The Eagles finished with just the one win and seventh overall but went down to Brisbane City by only a point and lost to the Canberra Vikings in Armidale after conceding a last- minute try.
Blades lamented a tough schedule and the short turnaround with the Shute Shield finishing only a week before the NRC kicked-off.
“I think the important thing for the NSW sides to be really competitive is they have to get the chance to properly prepare,” he said.
“We had three games in the first week-and-a-half of the competition and the guys just weren’t ready for it.”
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