It is a sad day when you realise that ITM Cup provinces like Southland are struggling to hold onto their players for the up and coming ITM Cup. Southland products like Robbie Robinson, Nick Barrett and Brayden Mitchell are leaving for more opportunities, yet ironically the Super Rugby contracts are now made so that players like these can gain a contract with a Super Rugby franchise without having to leave their province. Marty McKenzie who has found his feet with Southland has also left, making it hard to support to the mighty Stags in some ways.
I am unsure what has gone on behind the scenes, or if it is just an unfortunate coincidence, but the key to succeeding in the ITM Cup is grooming your own young players as they tend to be loyal servants of their team long term. Southland was successful in the late 2000s, but achieved this through spending more money than they had. Now, they tend to get young players from other provinces, but it is a shame that Southland stock like Robinson, Mitchell, McKenzie and Barrett won’t be seen in maroon colours this season. I am still left wondering how provinces like Counties – Manukau, Hawkes Bay and Taranaki are able to keep buying quality players and still fit under the salary cap. Otago has shown that a team made up of mainly local players can actually compete admirably in the ITM Cup.
Sure, I will still support the Stags, but it is easier to support a team of local players who roll their sleeves up for the province. I thought Super Rugby was for players moving around and that is why Super Rugby contracts have changed, leaving players to play for a different franchise to what their ITM Cup team is part of.
It will be a bitter pill to swallow when we see the likes of Jimmy Cowan, Robbie Robinson, Nick Barrett, Marty McKenzie and Brayden Mitchell playing for other teams against the Stags.
Is it unrealistic to expect player loyalty in ITM Cup rugby? I thought that was what separates ITM Cup and Super Rugby.