BOOM times for junior rugby union development in the local zone spells more bad news for the once-dominant code of rugby league.
Figures released in the 2010 Mid North Coast Junior Rugby Union annual report show player registrations for 16 years and under rose 31 per cent on the previous year to 899 players.
This topped a 10 per cent rise in 2009 from 2008 records when 687 players registered in the calendar year.
But the most amazing numbers are coming from the two major population centres.
Port Macquarie rose 21 per cent while Coffs Harbour registrations went through the roof with 43 per cent more players engaged in organised junior rugby union competition now, than there were in the 2009 season.
North Coast rugby development manager Bruce Frame said the figures are indicative of not just having a good product to ‘sell’ but are the outcome of having planned strategies in place that show rugby at its most attractive.
“This is a very good time to be in rugby union with junior registrations in New South Wales rising seven per cent in the last year to reach record levels,” he said.
“There were more rugby union players in Australian competitions in 2010 than at any time since the game was introduced to this country in the mid-1800s.
“Much of that is coming on
the back of the Super 15 competition and we anticipate much more growth once that gets under way as it coincides at the time we are signing our juniors for the upcoming season.”
Frame admits he has been an interested onlooker to the recent publicity given to AFL’s rise in the Coffs Harbour region and the feeling in sporting circles that rugby league development has been caught napping.
“Junior sporting development has no room for complacency as you can be run over in the rush,” he said.
“The increases we are showing for rugby have not happened overnight but result from more than a decade of planning and improving what we have to offer the youngsters who come to play the game.
“There has been a lot of effort put into laying the groundwork and we have excellent junior rugby committees driving ahead with very good people involved in administration.”
Should junior rugby union development continue its current growth levels it will move ahead of present Group 2 figures within two years, relegating the once unchallenged winter code leader to last place in registrations for the first time.
In 2010, Group 2 is believed to have registered approximately 1400 juniors aged 16-years and under.
This was down 82 on 2009 which had seen an increase of over 100 on 2008 numbers.
However, the statistics reflecting the 16-18 years bracket is where league should be most concerned.
Port Macquarie RLFC official Les Murphy told the Coffs Coast Advocate on January 21 the Sharks were struggling to find numbers for this year’s under-18 side with one of the contributing factors being not having an under-16 side in 2010.
In contrast, there were two under-16 rugby sides in Port last year with these now feeding through to the Port Pirates and Hastings Vikings.
Further north in Group 2, last year’s under-18 grand finalists Orara Valley and Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo are struggling to find enough numbers to compete again this season, with only the Axemen having under-16s coming through the ranks from 2010.
There were three under-16 rugby sides in Coffs Harbour last year providing a huge boost to the Coffs Rugby Colts and senior sides.
Meanwhile Coffs Crusaders will host two junior registrations days at Sawtell-Toormina Sport and Recreation Club at Coffs Coast Advocate Rugby Union Park.
The under 14 and 16 years players should be in attendance from 4.30pm on March 11 with under 7 and 12 years players asked to be there on April 29.
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