Group 4 has initiated a plan to overhaul their long-struggling First Division by combining it with the much healthier Second Division to form one competition – the start date next year.
Under the new competition, it is proposed each team would play one another once, and when the regular season was completed there would be three separate five-team final series.
The top third of the ladder would play for the Cup, the second third would play for the Plate and the bottom third would play for the Shield.
Combined, there are currently 17 teams in the First and Second divisions.
If the proposal were executed – and it is yet to be finalised – the group expects to lose Bingara, Uralla and Bundarra to Group 19’s First Division.
Group 4 president Mick Schmiedel said discussions with clubs had begun and the response was favourable.
“At this stage most of the clubs seem to be on board with it,” he said. “When reality kicks in, it may not be.”
He added: “You’ll have some people whinge that it’s unfair, they don’t want to play the top sides, but I think it will add some interest to the competition.”
The move follows recent criticism of the First Division by Country Rugby League chief executive Terry Quinn and veteran Narrabri coach John Rumsby, with the duo calling on Group 4 to breathe life into the competition by shaking it up. They echoed the general feeling among league followers.
Schmiedel urged clubs to remove the “blinkers” and embrace the possibilities the new competition would present, for the game’s betterment.
“For example, Manilla, who’s a small town, have a good backing from their local community,” he said. “Because they’d be in the one comp, competing against Norths, I think it would add some interest to the competition.
“All the restrictions that we have there now … will be off the table.”
Second Division clubs are barred from paying players more than a $40 match payment, although it is known that clubs breach the rule.
Schmiedel said the move would “free up players to actually go where they want”, which would counter the “argument we get every year – a bloke should be able to play where he wants”.
“And I don’t disagree with that,” he added. “But the problem you’ve got, if players end up going where they want, then you’ve got a lopsided competition.”
Schmiedel believes that the overhaul would not “ruin the competition” but “add some interest” to Group 4.
“For example, you’ve got Kooty sitting on top (of Second Division) at the moment,” he said. “I think there’d be a lot of interest in a Kooty-North Tamworth game. Or a Bendemeer-North Tamworth game.”
Under the proposal, there would not be a reserve grade competition. Second Division clubs would be allowed to increase the number of signed players from 25 to 30 and field a 17-man squad. Players not in the 17 would compete in a nines or sevens competition to “fill the void”.
Schmiedel said when the proposal was finalised it would be presented to clubs.
“And it’s not about helping First Division and destructing Second Division, because that will be the thing that comes up (from clubs),” he said. “But what it does is take a lot of boundaries and barriers off everybody.”
Quinn, the CRL boss, had called on Group 4 to merge with Group 19.
But Schmiedel said the long distances teams would have to travel made that proposal untenable.