Marketplace Rugby

Breathing New Life into the NPC

What shall we do with the Mitre 10 Cup, still a meaningful competition but one that is increasingly marginalised?

Campbell Burnes has a plan to breathe new life back into the Mitre 10 Cup.

The bulk of the season’s rugby is over and while you no doubt had your fill of the Rugby World Cup from Japan, what about the good ol’ Mitre 10 Cup?

Our NPC is badly neglected by much of the mainstream media and, despite some tremendous rugby and the perennial unearthing of brilliant new young talent, it continues to be the problem child for New Zealand Rugby.

In the last few years, improvements have come in the form of a reduced salary cap, now sitting at just over $1 million per team, and the abolition of Tuesday (!) and Wednesday night games which no doubt gave those in the PUs’ marketing departments major headaches.

This season kicked off a week earlier, on August 8, thus negating the need for a ‘Storm’ week, when sides would play games within 3-4 days of their last match. Coaches were happier.

After round six, of course, the Mitre 10 Cup ran into some stiff competition called the World Cup in Japan. If you sat through every game every weekend you are either single or the ultimate rugby fan.

At the time of writing, no less than seven Championship sides had beaten Premiership outfits, including Southland breaking its long drought with a merited and comfortable victory over Premiership outfit Counties Manukau. There is pleasing parity in the Mitre 10 Cup and no one would rightly classify the Premiership and Championship on a par with the old NPC division one and two.

But surely, on that basis, the time has come for change for the 2021 Mitre 10 Cup, which will be the first under the new broadcast arrangement, assuming SKY again wins the rights?

When I say change, I mean more like back to the future. Back to 2010, when it was the ITM Cup and the last time it ran as a full round-robin amongst the 14 unions. While the usual suspects Canterbury, Auckland, Waikato and Wellington filled the top four positions then, I noted that five current Championship teams were in the top 10, including Southland and Northland.

The Stags and Hawke’s Bay were more than competitive a decade ago, both regularly featuring in the semifinals. It can be done again if we changed back to what it was.

The two sections were created in 2011, partly to fit everything in due to Rugby World Cup on these shores, but also because there was a view that the competition had to be squeezed into a 13-week window, including playoffs.

I am suggesting we push that to a 15-week competition, including playoffs. It will mean a July kickoff, soon after Super Rugby winds up, but so be it. You don’t need a big pre-season window or that will impinge too much on club rugby. The Super players can be rested from the first few rounds to ‘recover’ if need be.

Super Rugby’s expansion stuffed up the NPC in the first place. How about some pushback? How about giving more meaning to the competition we know and love but which is increasingly treated like an outcast in this elite level-obsessed age?