Waratahs boss backs Rugby Australia's State of Origin play

Rugby Australia's push to stage a State of Origin series as part of its next broadcast offering continues to divide opinion but the concept has the cautious support of NSW Rugby chief executive Paul Doorn.

RA chairman Hamish McLennan was earlier this week spruiking the array of rights the code has made available to interested parties, with everything from Wallabies Tests to Super Rugby - albeit in a variety of forms - right down to a new Schools Cup competition, up for tender.

Broadcasters have been invited to pick and choose the components they wish to broadcast, one of which could be a State of Origin series that pits NSW against Queensland outside of the Waratahs-Reds Super Rugby fixtures.

While it had drawn genuine interest from players -- particularly those at other franchises outside of the state where they are playing Super Rugby -- it has drawn criticism as to whether such a match is really needed given the nature of the existing Waratahs-Reds rivalry.

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Speaking exclusively with ESPN, Doorn said he was certainly open to the concept and was prepared to entertain any game that would genuinely engage supporter interest.

"It's still in the conceptual stage clearly, but I think there are more positives than negatives that's for sure," Doorn said. "The business I'm in, where content is king - regardless of what competition we go to next year, more opportunities for our high-class players to be put on television or to be playing in stadiums with people coming to watch is a great thing.

"Super Rugby is a structured competition, it has a certain amount of games, semifinals and then finals; if this is an opportunity to put more product out there than I think that's a good thing."

The Waratahs and Reds already meet twice per year and may continue to do so even if a trans-Tasman Super Rugby league gets the go-ahead for 2021. Those negotiations are seemingly stalled, with NZ Rugby or Rugby Australia able to agree on a structure that works for both countries and doesn't jeopardise the competition's integrity.

Sydneysider Michael Hooper would be the natural captain of a New South Wales team, picked on the basis of where a player first played junior rugby Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Should Super Rugby AU - the competition setup once Super Rugby was cancelled - have to run again next year, then a potential State of Origin series may not have the point-of-difference that really makes it stand out in rugby league.

Asked whether it might devalue or dilute the Waratahs brand, which goes back to 1882, Doorn alluded to how NSW Cricket had introduced the Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder Big Bash brands with no impact on the NSW Blues as to how such brand delineation could be executed.

"I think it is one of those things that we'd need to be very considerate of, to be honest," Doorn said when quizzed about the Waratahs' existing history. "We'd work very closely with Rugby Australia and Queensland Rugby to make sure that didn't take away from the brand that is the franchise brand.

"That being said, if you plan it properly, there are many examples across the globe - certainly from a cricket perspective, I know it's not State of Origin, but there are other products that have been introduced into the Sydney landscape like the Sydney Thunder and Sydney Sixers that hasn't taken away from the [NSW] Blues brand, it's actually just given people more opportunities to see those players, albeit in a slightly different form of cricket.

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"So that's the way I'm taking it, more content and more eyeballs watching the best of the players." RA boss McLennan earlier this week suggested overseas-based players could potentially be included in a State of Origin series. Overlooking the fact that players like Will Skelton, Sean McMahon and Rory Arnold would need clearance from their European or Japanese clubs - many of whom do not like their players involved in Test rugby as it is - to play, that would be the kind of X-factor that could help such a series stand out from Super Rugby.

Certainly it would give the likes of Reece Hodge, Scott Sio, Nic White and Alan Alaalatoa [NSW] and Matt To'omua, Tom Banks and Tevita Kuridrani [QLD] the chance to represent the State where their rugby career first took root.

"From a high performance pathway perspective, clearly giving our players another opportunity to shine on another stage is a great opportunity because we're limited to how many people can play for the Waratahs," Doorn said.

"Sadly, for a whole host of different reasons, some of those really good players end up playing either overseas or interstate with other franchises. So if it means a chance to sometimes bring those people back together again, then I think that's something that we'd look forward to seeing how it works."

All Blacks coach Ian Foster has been impressed by the rising standard in Super Rugby AU DAVID GRAY/AFP via Getty Images

With RA placing a September 4 deadline on their New Zealand counterparts to either agree on a 10-team trans-Tasman competition - a tournament that would clearly still be at the mercy of COVID-19 - or push ahead with a repeat of this year's stopgap tournaments, the picture of what Australian rugby looks like in 2021 and beyond should become clear in the coming weeks.

Whether a broadcaster jumps at part or all of RA's package remains to be seen, but Doorn was confident a State of Origin series could be established for next season if it does generate the interest McLennan hopes it will.

"I think if there is one thing we've learned through COVID it's that, as a business, we've all learned to be very nimble," he told ESPN. "We're on, we're off; we're training this week, we're training that week. So from my perspective, I think that nimbleness puts us in a good place for next year to be able to put something on.

"In the past we've done things like Sydney vs. Country, so we can build those sorts of things into the timetable. But we'd take a cautious approach with it, we wouldn't just jump in the deep end and get started.

"But we think if there is an opportunity to showcase the game and help give more opportunities for our players to have high-quality games then, yeah, certainly it is something we would look at."

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