Rugby league in the region is being challenged, also from within.
Rugby league in the region is being challenged, also from within. Rob Wright

League battles for numbers

WITH less than three weeks remaining until a team must appear at the Oxley Pioneers round robin, Group 2 Rugby League is battling to put an under-18 representative side on the field.

The preliminary “north versus south” trial planned for Macksville last Saturday was called off when three of the nine clubs didn’t provide contact details, hindering the organisational time available to coaches, selectors and support staff.

Selectors now have just two rounds of pre-season matches to look at players and even this is an uncertain process, with as many as four clubs still a long way from having enough junior players to proceed.

Last year the group dropped Country Rugby League (CRL) regulations, which demand selected players must accept representative commitments or be banned from club competition.

Instead, the group decided to extend “invitations” to players willing to participate, with no penalty against those who withdrew.

“It looks like we’ll have to go back to the old system and the selectors will just have to tell them to make themselves available,” chief administrator Jim Anderson said.

“We are committed to play the match in Wingham next month and that’s that.”

The representative hiccup is another blow to the once-dominant rugby league code, with an escalating string of calamities proving an embarrassment.

While last year’s under-18 premier Orara Valley doesn’t appear to have enough players to form one grade to defend its title, Orara High School was able to field two small Australian rules teams to play a curtain-raiser to the clash of Sydney and St Kilda at BCU International Stadium on Saturday night.

And as league teams continue to fall by the wayside, North Coast Football has announced between 20 and 23 extra teams will participate in the zone this year.

If the situation is not already seen as critical by those in charge of local rugby league, they might have no choice soon but to confront the reality of the situation made plain by the CRL constitution.

Club sources continue to report a downturn in numbers training for reserve grade and when coupled with the under-18 demise, the prospect is emerging of clubs asking permission to continue with one team only.

Under CRL rules they must have more than one team or withdraw from the competition.

This situation occurred last in 2004, when Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo was allowed to participate in under-18s only and actually won the premiership in that grade.

Two or more clubs are believed to be under extreme pressure to field more than a first grade team.

That would take the competition into grey areas over its legal status, because Country Rugby League regulations state a competition must have a minimum of six junior age teams to hold “group” status unless there are exceptional circumstances.

One-team clubs can also be relegated to “cup” status, similar to the Hastings League.

Anderson said he was aware of the difficulties being faced but predicted no enforced cuts.

“When I’ve asked clubs how they were going they’ve reassured me that all is well and that’s what I have to go on,” he said.

“However, if we do get down to just one team at some stage, I’m predicting they’ll be allowed to continue, even though it’s not a perfect situation.”

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