Bright future for fit athletes

TO some country players, these words will be heresy.

Regional ARL development officer (and Orara Valley first grader) Mike Castle is certain the future of bush rugby league hinges on fit, younger athletes putting on better spectacles for the paying public.

He isn’t advocating the social players who mainly play reserve grade should be banished to the grandstand but he does believe Darwinian conditions of survival of the fittest should exist in first grade with the best-prepared, focussed and athletic sides usually winning each contest.

Part of this would be introducing a 12-man interchange rule to VB Gold Group 2.

It would mean fitness levels needing to lift dramatically and coaches devising clever strategies to make best use of their bench resources.

Castle has distributed a document explaining the advantages of a limited interchange and urging they adopt the changes.

“Some clubs already support the concept but there’s a worry it will create more work,” he said.

“However, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks when really it’s a matter of a replacement player holding a card numbered from one to 12 above his head as he waits on the sideline, then drops it in the pile when he runs on.

“First grade will become a better spectacle because coaches won’t dare risk using unfit players ... the young blokes will get a go and only the best will survive.”

So that reserve graders don’t get noses out of joint, Castle points out their competition needs special attention.

“Probably the best was when they moved back and the under-18s played before first grade,” he remarked.

“The clubs possibly jumped the gun to change the starting times back before that had time to settle in.

“By playing first, conditions can be set to help the reserves and allow them to socialise for the remainder of the day.”

Oxley Pioneer partner Group 4 adopted the 12-man interchange five years ago and have found it even more successful when reduced to an eight-man bench.

Southern partner Group 3 also changed to the new rule this season with a general thumbs-up.

Castle has already received support from Orara Valley and Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo and has asked the clubs to vote on the issue at the pre-season meeting in January.

Port Macquarie are also likely to agree as the changes would suit their style perfectly.

“I fully understand that running a club is an extremely difficult task and we’re all volunteers to the game,” he added.

“But I worry if we don’t begin to move with the times as a Group we will be left behind.

“Not only by rival Country Rugby League Group competitions but by other sports as well.

“Changes and initiatives such as this submission need to occur to ensure rugby league remains the premier sporting choice in the region.

“We should be striving to be the best in the CRL and not be satisfied with anything less.”

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