Fiji is welcome in the NRC for as long as they are financially sustainable after another electric showing in 2018.
The Fijian Drua joined the provincial competition in 2017 and made the finals in their inaugural season before winning both the title and the Horan-Little Shield that is played for throughout the tournament.
Fiji’s side is jointly funded by World Rugby and the Fiji Rugby Union and as long as that remains in place, the Drua will be part of the NRC, Rugby AU high performance manager Ben Whitaker said.
“We included them on the basis that they covered all costs associated with their involvement and that continues,” he said.
“If that ever changes for whatever reason, then we’d have to review it but right now that’s worked for them, it’s worked for us clearly because we didn’t want them costing our system any more money.
“So, it creates a good level of competition – eight teams works.”
Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) are considering playing in the proposed expanded World Series Rugby competition next year but it is not expected that would affect their NRC participation.
Even if they did opt to take up that offer, Whitaker said they would be unlikely to drop out of the NRC.
“I know World Rugby are committed, Fiji rugby are committed and we’re committed (to having the Drua in the NRC),” he said.
“There’s a few things happening in their world, which I don’t think will interfere with them being in the NRC, but they’ve got some offers to play in other competitions as we know – whether it be World Series Rugby or the new term for that (in 2019).“Schedule-wise definitely, they could play both.
“In saying that, Fiji Rugby Union, they’ve been really loyal to their NRC involvement and they’d have to make some decisions too around investment because to be involved at those levels does cost money.”
Samoa and Tonga have both expressed a desire to be considered as an option for NRC but Whitaker all but ruled out any more immediate Pacific expansion.
“Some of the pacific nations aren’t at the stage that Fiji are in their evolution of their system,” he said.
“We remain open to looking at ways of improving and enhancing but right now, Id’ say no.”
Whitaker said the Drua’s immediate success in the competition was a positive for the Australian opposition, who face an extra challenge with the Fijians’ inclusion.
“I think you look at the quality of footy they’ve played this year and certainly on Saturday afternoon and that’s the type of rugby we want our players to be tested against,” he said.
“We didn’t necessarily set out to have international flavour or involvement with our competition, it just worked that way.
“Our teams are probably sitting back going, “Gee, they’re tough to play” and that’s what we want.“The fact they won it – well done to them – we’d much prefer obviously an Aussie team to win it but it’s a competition.
“They proved to be the best and they did through the competition and they did on Saturday.”
The 2019 NRC will also be unaffected by the Rugby World Cup in Japan, Whitaker said, with initial plans to keep the competition in the same time frame as 2018.
“We did the same in 2015 and we ran it through it,” he said.
“There’s no real opportunity to dramatically shift or change the schedule so we’re working with all the states to make sure we are aligned with how the season comes together.
“At this stage it’s very likely to remain in the time period that’s it’s currently being run.
“In terms of the team setups and ability to deliver at that time of year, that’s not impacted at all by the World Cup.”