Penrith Panthers rugby league legend Mark Geyer has declared he's never seen a competition fall off a cliff the way Super Rugby has in Australia in recent years.

The much-maligned rugby competition, which now encompasses Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, is set to undergo major surgery at the end of the 2017 season, with the futures of several Australian teams on the line.

A meeting of SANZAAR rugby officials, the governing body of Super Rugby, this week is expected to carve up the competition into a new structure for the 2018 season.

The future of the Perth-based Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels is uncertain, but Geyer and fellow NRL commentator Matthew Johns believes few Aussie fans would miss the expansionist Super Rugby franchises.

Advertisement

As SANZAAR officials continue to decide the fate of Australian rugby, Geyer took aim at Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver, accusing him of dropping the ball, since taking over Australian Rugby's top job from John O'Neil.

"I've never seen a code fall of the perch like it has," Geyer told Triple M's Grill Team.

"At the moment our Super 18, 19 or 20 or whatever it is, I'm looking at the table thinking who is that? Who are they?

"I don't know what's going on with our rugby union here at home. There just doesn't seem to be any ads for union - I don't see any highlights.

"I suppose I'm on [Fox Sports] 502 all the time, watching my sport. But it seems to me, once the baton was passed from O'Neil to Pulver that this has all gone backwards.

"I don't know much about the intricacies of the leadership with rugby union, but I know when John O'Neil was at the helm, they were going pretty good."

Newcastle Knights great Johns said Super Rugby franchises in Australia must be amputated in order to save the game.

"The Super Rugby, in its form, has spread itself too thin," he said. "There's just too many sides.

"You would see Super Rugby return to what it was in the late 90s, if they said, righto, look I understand you're trying to spread the game, but the Western Force is losing lots of money.

"The Melbourne Rebels are just getting pummelled continually. If you went back to having three Australian sides, four South African sides and five New Zealand sides ...

"Stick with Argentina and Japan, because that is serious expansion, but then you're talking about a really elite competition.

"You just have to look at the table of Super Rugby and the competition's structure now. It is absolutely so confusing.

"There's the normal standings, then you've got the Australian conference, then you've got the New Zealand conference and the South African conference, and then there's the South Africa Twos conference. What is going on?"

He said the competition has also lost identity and significance, since teams ceased identifying themselves with a geographic area, instead of a franchise moniker like Waratahs and Reds.

"I don't know whose idea it was to get rid of the names of the sides," Johns said. "Where are the Lions from in South Africa? I don't know.

"Where are the Kings from? Buggered if I know.

"They've lost identity there. They seriously need to have a re-think about how Super Rugby is run."

That's exactly what officials are doing - long overdue.

Under siege amid uncertain shake-ups to the competition's complex format, Australia's Super Rugby franchises did themselves few favours on another weekend of near misses and flops.

The Brumbies were Australia's only winners, wrestling the conference lead from the Western Force with a dour 25-17 victory over the Perth outfit in Canberra.

But the Queensland Reds, Force, NSW Waratahs and last-placed Melbourne Rebels all languish in the bottom eight, as SANZAAR, the competition's ruling body, sharpens the knife amid talk of the competition being slashed from 18 teams to 15.

While remaining tight-lipped about specific recommendations, SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos said a preferred format had been decided on and would be revealed in "coming days", following robust discussions in London between the four unions from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina.

"There are a number of tournament considerations that now require further
discussion and consultation," Marinos said. "This includes final consultation within the national unions and discussion with key stakeholders that would allow the adoption of changes proposed by the strategic plan.

"SANZAAR will make a formal statement on the future of the organisation, Super Rugby and the tournament format in the coming days, once these further meetings have been concluded."

It's believed New Zealand, who filled four of the six finals places in 2016 and provided the champions in the Hurricanes, have lobbied hard for the removal of one of Australia's five teams and two of South Africa's six.

With NSW and Queensland, Australia's two oldest and most established franchises, presumably safe, such a scenario would leave the Brumbies, Force and Rebels in the firing line.

If one must go, it'd be the ARU 's call.

The Brumbies are Australia's most accomplished Super Rugby outfit, with titles in 2001 and 2004, four other grand finals and conference honours in 2016, but they are a club in off-field turmoil and financial peril.

The Rebels, while financially independent, have yet to succeed on the field, while competing in a sporting market where AFL is - and always will be - king.

In 10 years, the Force, with financial troubles of their own, are also yet to make the finals, while trying to grow the game in the west.

Australia's disappointing start to the 2017 season, including just one win from eight matches against overseas competition, isn't helping the seemingly forlorn hopes of sustaining five teams.

The Waratahs will host the Brumbies in a vital derby on Saturday night, after returning home from South Africa without a solitary competition point for the first time in 21 years of the tournament.

The Tahs' 37-14 loss to the Sharks in Durban followed a 55-36 thrashing from the
Lions in Johannesburg.

The Brumbies were far from impressive in battling past the Force, while the Reds let a 17-0 lead slip to fall 22-20 to the Crusaders in Brisbane.

Like the Brumbies, Waratahs and Force, the Reds are now one from three.

After a bye, the Rebels, smashed in the opening two rounds, are dead last.