Pre-season Foundation Cup all but dead

Consigned to history: Last year’s Foundation Cup between Wests Tigers and Sydney Roosters could be the last. Photo: Anthony JohnsonIt was introduced to rival the Charity Shield and to celebrate Australia’s first rugby league clubs, but the Foundation Cup is all but dead as a pre-season event.

The Wests Tigers and Roosters launched the Foundation Cup with much fanfare in 2007, with the aim of replicating the success of the traditional NRL trial between St George Illawarra and South Sydney.

However, a packed off-season schedule including the World Cup in England, the inaugural NRL Nines and the World Club Challenge – which featured the Roosters for the first time since 2003 – meant the fixture was scrapped this season. With the All Stars match slated to return and talk of expanded Nines and World Club Challenge competitions in 2015, there is little chance of squeezing a Foundation Cup trial into an already bulging schedule.

Roosters chief executive Brian Canavan said the Foundation Cup “wasn’t off the table” but conceded it would be difficult to commit to it due to the increasing demands on his players.

“It was put on hold this year and it reflects the engagements that we’ve got in the preseason block,” he said. “This year we had the World Club Challenge and the Nines, etc, etc. It’s a concept both clubs liked and we enjoyed the game but that pre-season block now requires a lot of discussion, for very positive reasons. People now have an appetite for pre-season footy. It’s becoming more difficult to commit to pre-season games when you’ve got all of these things. The complication for us is the number of Word Cup players involved, we had 16 that didn’t come back until January 15 this year.”

The concept got off to a reasonable start, with a crowd of 16,198 on hand to watch the Roosters win the inaugural game 10-4 at the Sydney Football Stadium. However, the encounter has failed to capture the imagination of the public since, with crowd numbers dwindling. The encounter has become increasingly lopsided – the Tigers have won just one of the seven clashes – and a pitiful crowd of 3800 witnessed what could well be the last Foundation Cup match at Allianz Stadium last year.

That clash was always going to be a tough sell for fans when it became apparent Sonny Bill Williams wouldn’t use it to make his long-awaited NRL return and the fixture was already televised on Fox Sports. Not even the prospect of watching Tigers recruit Braith Anasta play against his former club for the first time was enough to get the turnstiles clicking.

“This time last year we were coming off quite a poor season and the crowd wasn’t all that big,” Canavan said.

Supporters will need to wait until round nine before the old foes square off and it’s unclear whether the Foundation Cup will be up for grabs. In some good news for the premiers, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck got through his return from injury for Newtown unscathed and will be available for the opening round match against South Sydney.

“He handled it well, there weren’t any repercussions from his injury,” Canavan said.

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