AUSTRALIA has become the first country to ban children from the sport as it becomes increasingly difficult to find skilled rugby players to fill the gap left by retiring internationals and players leaving to work abroad.
The move was approved by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) on Thursday, with the ban affecting the Australian Super League (ASL) and the Rugby League Australia (RLA).
The ban affects players who have played in the top six tiers of Australian Rugby League, as well as the current generation of internationals.
“It’s time for the AFL and the RFL to be a real destination sport in Australia,” said AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou.
“The fact that we have the most rugby players on the planet means that the game is an important part of our national identity.”
The RFU is currently negotiating a deal with a major international club to take over as the sole provider of youth and national team players.
The RFU said it would also consider the option of allowing players aged 16 to 17 to compete in the league, with a minimum age of 18.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said the RFU was making an important step in ensuring that the future of Australian sport was “for everyone”.
“This decision is a reflection of the enormous importance that the AFL holds in the lives of young Australians,” McLachland said.
More than 2,000 players from all over the world have signed up for the RLA’s Youth Rugby League program since the ban was announced in April, and about 40 percent of the clubs in the competition’s four leagues are still based in Australia.
The RFG says it expects the numbers to increase significantly in the next year or two.
Rugby League clubs will be able to recruit from overseas when they return to Australia, and it is expected they will be the only sport that has the same rule in place.
Australian Rugby League clubs can recruit players from the RLWFL, the National Premier League (NPL), the Australian Junior League (AJL), the Western Sydney Wanderers, the Sydney Roosters, the Canberra Raiders and the Adelaide Crows.
The AFL also has the ability to take players overseas, but it will only be able do so if they meet the RFG’s criteria for international rugby league participation.
Currently, only five countries are allowed to have international players, including New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa.
The RLWHL is the only other sport that allows players from outside of Australia to compete.
There are currently around 1,100 rugby league players in Australia, of whom nearly 600 are currently contracted to the NRL and the AFL.
According to the Rugby Australia website, about 250 players are contracted to both leagues.
The majority of these players are based in Sydney and the Northern Territory, and many have been at the helm of the sport for years.
Some of the players who are currently under contract to the RLU are former AFL players, such as Matthew Ryan and Aaron Gray.
While the RFL has been trying to attract international talent to the sport, the RLWA has been less successful.
Former players such as Anthony Milford, Nathan Green and Ryan McGowan have been unable to break into the top-tier ranks.
Since the ban came into effect, the RFWFL has had to turn to other sports to fill its quota of domestic players, with just eight of the 24 players who played in last season’s finals played for the national team.
Many of the current players were previously in the Australian under-19s and under-20s national teams.
One of the biggest hurdles for the RFWA is ensuring that players are available for the National Rugby League (NRL) in 2019.
RFU chief executive Brendon Bolton said the decision was an important first step.
“It gives us the opportunity to develop and build a great foundation for future success,” Bolton said.
“It’s great that the NRL is the first major sport in the world to recognise the importance of international players and that it’s now moving forward with a plan to provide the opportunity for all players to join.”
As part of the move, all players who currently play for clubs in Australia will have to leave the sport and be recruited by another club, unless they can prove they are not in the wrong.
As well as restricting domestic rugby league, the ban also includes the sport’s top division, the Super League.
Australia’s top professional teams, including the Sydney Swans and Melbourne Victory, will have the option to field a team in the Super Bowl and the Australian Rules Football Championship.
This will also give the RLB, AFL and NRL the chance to test their new rules at the highest level, which is the world’s premier rugby league competition.
In the past, international rugby has largely been played at the grassroots level.
After the ban, there is speculation