Former Jets BRL coach Mark Bishop is concerned with the strength of the Rugby League Ipswich competition.
Former Jets BRL coach Mark Bishop is concerned with the strength of the Rugby League Ipswich competition. Rob Williams

Coach questions RLI quality, decision to drop Jets BRL

IPSWICH Diggers coach Mark Bishop has questioned the quality of the Rugby League Ipswich competition after the representative side failed to fire a shot at the SEQ Chairman's Challenge last weekend.

The Diggers were outplayed by their Gold Coast and Brisbane rivals at the SEQ selection carnival.

The results meant just two Ipswich players gained selection in the Water Dragons side for next weekend's QRL State Championships.

"The boys on the weekend, they tried their hardest. I have no issue with their efforts or anything like that," Bishop said.

"It's just the other teams were too fit; too good for us. That's something we have to try and rectify."

Bishop said the big difference between Ipswich and its rival SEQ competitions was the opportunity for progression.

With the Ipswich Jets not fielding a BRL side this season, in Bishop's eyes that has removed an important stepping stone from the Ipswich competition to higher level rugby league.

It has created a flow-on effect, with many players who would have competed for a place in the Jets' BRL team now moving elsewhere for opportunities. That then trickles down to the Ipswich competition.

Previously, players not picked for the BRL would play in Ipswich. Now the majority are turning out in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.

"The Brisbane and Gold Coast comps are used as a pathway to go further," he said.

"Now this is no criticism of anybody involved in the (Ipswich) comp. But the boys that play in it are happy to just play footy for their local club and with their mates. That's where it's at; that's just how it is.

"There's no way in the world that comp shouldn't be a pathway."

Bishop suggested the problem stemmed from the top, starting with the QRL's decision to remove the Jets from the 2018 Brisbane Rugby League competition.

"The BRL side needs to be there, so the guys that want to test themselves at the Jets can get into that system," he said.

"This year we lost 10-15 colts to Brisbane, because there's no pathway (at the Jets) any more. If they were to try out for the (Jets) BRL side and not make it, they go back into the Ipswich comp.

"But now they're in Brisbane, they play in the Brisbane second division. The Ipswich competition is losing Ipswich kids."

That makes the step up to representative football too great a curve, according to Bishop, compared to the rival competitions.

"(Most) of those guys from the (Brisbane and Gold Coast) teams would have been part of a QCup pre-season system this year," Bishop said.

"When you get NRL players come back to the their QCup teams, that pushes everyone down to the Gold Coast and Brisbane competitions.

"Those boys have been training in a semi-professional system. The Ipswich boys, the majority have just trained with their local clubs. The intensity is not there.

"The gulf between the QCup and BRL is significant already. If you go down again to the Ipswich comp, that's a massive gulf.

"The local, week-to-week game for them isn't as intense as the other two comps, and that really showed in the carnival."

Former Jets BRL players like Chris Ash, Javarn White and Ono So'Oialo have returned to the RLI competition. But those players alone are not enough to create change, according to their former coach.

"We've only had five or six go back into the local comp. One guy can't change a whole system or attitude," Bishop said.

"We've lost a heap of Jets players this year because there was no second team."

QRL South East Division chairman Brad Tallon said the decision to remove the Jets from the BRL competition was in line with the governing body's plan to strengthen local competitions, not diminish them.

He said the QRL was working to make the RLI a more self-sustaining competition, and not have to lean on the BRL to act as a bridge from local footy to the Intrust Super Cup.

"Ipswich is one of the biggest growth areas in Queensland - in Australia in fact," Tallon said.

"It certainly has the player base, and we believe has the development capability to support its own A-Grade competition.

"It is the structure we've got throughout the rest of the state. We've done it on the Sunshine Coast, in (Rockhampton), Townsville, Mackay . . . we want every (Ipswich) player to want to play for the Jets."

Tallon said whilst he could understand Bishop's immediate concern, in the long run the benefits would be seen not just with the Jets at state league level, but within the Ipswich competition as well.

He did however admit there are multiple areas the QRL knows it must address to make that a reality.

"We know there is work to be done, and will continue to work with the Jets and Rugby League Ipswich board," Tallon said.

"The model that is in place this year may not be the long-term model in terms of how players are allocated. I think we have some work to do in that space.

"We understand there are some negative effects, and we're working hard to ensure we can stop those.

"We believe that in the long run, to have a strong A-Grade competition in each of these key areas where there's an Intrust Super Cup team above them, is the best way to go."