Rugby league: Gunnedah Bulldogs stalwart Aaron Donnelly praises move to overhaul first grade

SMART MOVE: Bulldogs centre Aaron Donnelly has given the overhauled first-grade comp a big tick.
SMART MOVE: Bulldogs centre Aaron Donnelly has given the overhauled first-grade comp a big tick.

Veteran Gunnedah centre Aaron Donnelly says the revamped premier grade has injected the competition with a sorely missed excitement factor.

He just wishes it happened sooner. 

I reckon it will be good. It’s about time it happened. I reckon it should have happened three or four years ago.

Aaron Donnelly

He added: “Second Division was strong every year and First Division was struggling. If you run a comp, First Division should be the priority. I’m glad they finally did it.”

While Donnelly anticipates some new first-grade clubs may struggle early in the season, he believes that they will improve.

BIG PLUS: Former Bulldogs captain-coach Trent Hilton is back after missing 2016 with a knee injury.

BIG PLUS: Former Bulldogs captain-coach Trent Hilton is back after missing 2016 with a knee injury.

In fact, he expects the competition to be close and scoreline blowouts not to be norm.

He said: “I think Boggabri will go really well and so will Kootingal. I think most of them [the new first-grade sides] will do really well, to be honest … They’ll be a few games where teams get big score on them but they will improve throughout the year.”

At the end of last season Group 4 responded to severe criticism of first grade by scrapping the successful Second Division competition and promoting four Second Division clubs – Boggabri, Kootingal-Moonbi, Werris Creek and Bendemeer – to first grade to make it a nine-team comp.

Donnelly is relishing the chance to play in a competition with more “variety” and the opportunity to play Saturday games.

He added: “We’ve [Gunnedah] got a lot of mates who play for Boggabri. “It will good fun playing against a few mates.”

Gunnedah resume pre-season training on Friday after the Christmas break. Donnelly is excited about the return of three Bulldogs – former captain-coach Trent Hilton and fellow forwards Jordy Ford and Jason Smith.