NRL squads set to get bigger

NRL squads could be increased to 36 players and youngsters banned from making their debut until age 19 in changes being considered by rugby league’s governing body.

The proposals, which will be discussed with the Rugby League Players Association and state bodies before being potentially enacted in 2017, also address the game’s second-tier level.

A national reserve-grade system will be implemented in the form of a northern and southern conference, while the current under-20s competition would revert back to state-based competitions.

The NRL’s strategy and development Shane Richardson stressed however that did not automatically mean clubs such as Canterbury, St George and Cronulla would be forced to merge at a reserve-grade level as had been suggested this week.

Instead, a committee would decide how to best determine the make-up of teams.

“We want to give everyone the opportunity to play in the NRL whether they come from the country, New Zealand, the affiliated states, Pacific or anywhere else in the world of rugby league,” Richardson said.

“This strategy is not intended to squeeze anyone out of the game – it is designed to include more participants than ever before.”

The process by which rookies are signed by clubs would also change, with each team allowed to sign three rookies each season on two-year contracts.

Each club’s 36-man squad – a significant increase from the current 25 counted in the salary cap – would then include six players on rookie contracts.

Meanwhile, additional leave would be granted to players, and a formal international window implemented through an eight-year period.

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