New England wants five-team comp

THERE was plenty to discuss when New England held its annual general meeting on Sunday and most of the talk centred on one issue – the structure of the competition next season.

This year was a challenging one for the zone, with Guyra’s late withdrawal from first grade leaving the competition a bit dishevelled.

It left only four teams and meant teams played each other consecutive games, and sometimes had two-week breaks between games to factor in the other grades.

The zone believe five is enough to make the competition viable – in the short-term at least – but just where or how that team comes about is still to be determined.

That will be a job for the executive.

The new executive was elected at Sunday’s meeting, with Luke Stephen returned as president.

It will be his fourth year in charge and he’ll head a committee that includes Don Carruthers as senior vice president and Dave Bokeyar and Sam Clements as junior vice presidents.

Richard Croft will serve as secretary and Sam Notley as treasurer, while Carruthers is also the director of coaching for 2013.

In the next couple of weeks, they’ll meet to discuss the options brought up on Sunday and what the next step is.

“There was a lot of discussion about the strength of the one-grade town clubs,” Stephen said.

Guyra was unfortunately an apology so the meeting couldn’t get anything on its situation.

Glen Innes probably isn’t an option after losing two of its  best to serious injuries late last season. Both are unlikely to play next season and without them they probably don’t have the strength to carry a first grade side, Stephen said.

The River Rats are the other option.

They have only been part of the competition for two seasons but have made the grand final in second grade both years.

But Stephen is wary of pushing them into first grade before they’re ready.

“We don’t want to put a side into first grade, then it gets annihilated and is out of all football,” he said.

That would only make the situation worse.

“Their big goal this year is to field two sides,” he said.

2014 might be more realistic for them.

Another idea was incorporating sides like the River Rats and Glen Innes into first grade for a few games.

“One option we’re looking at is something like a competition where they are in a first grade style competition for the first half of the year,” Stephen said.

They’ll then fall back into second grade.

The problem of dwindling numbers is statewide and not just peculiar to rugby but seems to be emphasised in the New England with its smaller base to pick from. 

“We only need one more first grade team,” Stephen said.

“A five-team competition is a competition that works.”

On a more positive front, two of the zone’s long-serving officials were recognised on Sunday, with Jim Bannigan and Gordon Williams elected life members of the New England rugby union.

Both have worked tirelessly for New England rugby at both a club and representative level.

Bannigan was involved with Armidale and Uralla when they existed, served as senior vice-president of the zone for a number of years and was the Lions strapper for many 

seasons.

Williams has been the zone coach, has coached Robb over a couple of stints and has been heavily involved in educating the local coaches.

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