NSW Rugby chief executive Paul Doorn has played down reports of player strike action, saying the Waratahs, at least, are 100 percent committed to Super Rugby AU and helping the code survive in the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On a day when NSW Rugby announced an organizational restructure, which includes the departure of all 12 of the state's community development officers, Doorn said his players understood the gravity of the situation and were itching to commence their campaign against the Reds on Friday night.
A News Limited report last week suggested players were considering strike action should their demands on proposed pay cuts from October through to the end of the year not be met. Negotiations between Rugby Australia and the Rugby Union Players Association are ongoing.
"We're pretty close with the players, we're all based here at the one location [in Sydney], we share the same facilities and we engage with them on a day-to-day business, those issues [strike] have never been raised with me from any individual players, but I did read about it in the newspaper," Doorn told ESPN on Tuesday morning.
"What I would say to people is that they are 100 percent committed to playing footy this year and that starts against the old foes in the Reds this week; I would say that they appreciate that everyone has had to make sacrifices in this case and so it would be crazy to let some of that backroom dealing distract people.
"So yes there are discussions happening with RUPA around player deals, but our playing group are 100 percent committed. And I'm about to go and talk to them just before they go out [and train] but there are no issues that have been raised with me so far."
Certainly there would be an unforgiving backlash from rugby supporters across Australia should players opt to strike, particularly given the news out of NSW Rugby HQ on Tuesday morning.
The organisation will continue to support those staff who will lose their jobs through to the end of September, when the Australian Government's JobKeeper subsidy is due to come to an end, but the loss of the 12 development officers is a bitter pill to swallow.
Long lambasted for a lack of connection with the wider community, NSW Rugby and the Waratahs have in recent times done their best to repair that relationship and have been much more visible at all levels of the game throughout the state.
Despite that loss of boots on the ground, in a state where there is competition for youngsters like few other regions around the world, Doorn said the cuts would ensure rugby survives and could then rebuild in NSW in the coming years and that the level of talent emerging was something to be excited about.
"It's frustrating because when I came to the role, three months and three weeks ago when COVID hit, one of ideals that everyone has said is that they want to strengthen community rugby," Doorn told ESPN. "I agree with that and we've kept on our books some really experienced people that will still continue to do that.
"We've got our competition managers in place, the people who run coaching education, the referee training, people who do allocations of games and draws, as well as supporting schools and their comeback in to return to play strategies; women's sport and the growth of sevens.
"So we've still got a lot of people working in this space, albeit on reduced hours. We've got a commitment there that remains steadfast to supporting community rugby; it's just that I can't afford to do all the things that I've always done."
While Super Rugby AU will begin this weekend, it is a short-term solution to Australian rugby's problems with the Waratahs and their Super Rugby colleagues still in the dark as to what a competition could look like from 2021.
Doorn and his fellow chief executives held a conference call with their New Zealand colleagues 10 days ago, and while he wouldn't be drawn on the specifics the NSW Rugby boss said there was a commitment to make a trans-Tasman competition a reality in 2021.
""What I would say to you without breaking the confidentiality of those conversations is that everyone is still committed to 'that is where we want to head'," he said. "I think we just need to find a way to make it happen. This year is exciting, the sorts of things people have said to us is that they're looking forward to the local derbies and that's sustainable for 2020; I think that will reignite people's passion for the local competition.
"But we know that in order to meet the appetite of sponsors, fans, members, etcetera, that trans-Tasman competition where you've got a much larger pool of players, the best people, the best talent in the world on display, that's exactly where we want to head.
"So, we'll get through today and this week around these big tough decisions, and we will not lose sight of the future and that's that we need to get that [2021 competition] sorted sooner rather than later."