THOSE working at the coalface to stop bush rugby league going down the gurgler face enormous difficulties within their own ranks.
Democracy may be a good thing but when knuckleheads get the same voting rights and can outnumber those with ideas and a few brains, no wonder the game has so much difficulty and frustration attracting new blood to the volunteer ranks.
Consider the recent battle to introduce 12-man interchange to Group 2 first grade matches, passed 15-8 at last week’s meeting.
Lobbying for votes eventually revealed a dotted line splitting progressive ‘reformer group’ clubs who voted in favour of limited interchange from the ‘old guard’ who didn’t want a bar of it.
In the days leading up to the vote, one club delegate explained he was against the change “...as we can’t afford to pay 12 extra players to sit on the bench”.
So much for researching the topic.
Your scribbler didn’t attend the meeting but the phones have run red hot with ‘in favour’ delegates telling tales about one of the ‘against’ voters who wasn’t just animated in his opposition, he obviously hadn’t a clue what the mechanics of the proposal were.
“Why would I bother reading the rules?” he howled to the gathering.
“I was always going to vote against so I didn’t need to.”
A true story, they swear, and destined to enter local folklore.
One comes up against those kinds of thought processes in rugby league more than people believe, so no wonder the game is facing challenges on so many fronts.
Sources maintain one of the ‘no’ clubs voted contrary to the coach’s wishes while another coach is said to have urged his delegates to give the thumbs down, despite his first-grade squad voting in favour of the new rule. Obviously, this particular saga still has some way to run in those two camps.
Another informant reports his dismay when near the end of the meeting, he tried to spark debate – or to be precise, interest in debate – about the alarming position with under-18 teams.
More about this in days to come but the facts are that as you read this, four of the nine clubs are in real jeopardy of not being in a position to field a junior team this season.
Reigning premiers Orara Valley, runners-up Bellingen, the once-mighty Nambucca Roosters and even the awesome Port Sharks are all struggling for numbers due to a variety of factors.
Of the rest, Coffs, Sawtell and Macleay are certain to be strong while Woolgoolga and Macksville still have ground to make up but will eventually make it.
However, the danger remains that (heaven forbid) one of these remaining five could run into unforseen difficulties and lapse before the semi-finals.
Delegates from the ‘reformer group’ are now starting to ask questions, the same questions asked for many, many years on this page.
How has this situation been allowed to happen?
Why have so many warnings of problems in grass-roots rugby league been denied and ignored?
And what inspired Group 2 delegates – many of whom were the same ones against the limited interchange proposal – to sit on their hands and do nothing, despite warning after warning after warning sign?
One can see an outspoken, new breed of administrator from the Axemen, Magpies, Seahorses, Panthers and Sharks having every right to start asking very tricky questions.
And the ‘old guard’ had better start coming up with plausible answers to explain what certain reformers are beginning to refer to as negligence.
Instead of a dotted line, it wouldn’t take much for a fault-line to open up between the old and new guards.
Most in the latter brigade are no longer fearful of speaking their mind and putting their names to their arguments, such as Bellingen’s very articulate and very outspoken president Josh White.
Before the ‘old guard’ line-up to criticise him, rest assured there are many more – even from within their own ranks – encouraged and emboldened to speak up as well.
Not a day goes by they don’t ring and tell your scribbler so.
It could be a very rocky road for local rugby league in more ways than one during 2011.