Rugby league: Bundarra question Group 19 Second Division's viability as reason for Group 4 bid

MAN WITH THE PLAN: Bears captain-coach Luke Deaves wants to repeat this grand final scene.
MAN WITH THE PLAN: Bears captain-coach Luke Deaves wants to repeat this grand final scene.

Bundarra’s desire to win back-to-back premierships and concerns about the viability of Group 19’s new Second Division are the main motivating factors fuelling the Bears’ bid to play in Group 4’s revamped reserve-grade competition this year, the club’s vice-president, Gary Deaves, has said.

Bundarra will state their case for entry into Group 4, after it was thought they would return to Group 19, at a Group 4 board meeting on Sunday. The club was not included in Group 4’s initial 2018 draw.

Along with Bundarra’s concerns about the viability of Group 19’s Second Division, Deaves said the Bears believed that Group 4’s reserve-grade comp would be stronger than the Second Division.

He said it was not clear the Second Division “would get off the ground”. “We heard a couple of clubs may only go a couple of weeks and fold,” he added. “We want to go to a comp that is a strong and a good comp all year.”

Bundarra disappeared from the rugby league landscape for 20 years following the end of the 1996 season, before re-emerging in 2016 and claiming the 2017 premiership in the now-defunct Group 4 Second Division.

The high emotion generated by Bundarra’s upset grand final defeat of Barraba, after the Bears scraped into the top four, played a significant role in the club’s decision to turn their back on Group 19, Deaves said.

And with the 2017 team kept largely in tact – including the return of inspirational captain-coach Luke Deaves – Bundarra is optimistic about their chances this season.

“Everyone wrote us off, that we couldn’t do it [win the premiership] … and we just think we can go all right this year,” Gary Deaves said.

Deaves “hopes” Group 4’s revamp – done to strengthen first grade – works. The governing body had to try something to boost its premier grade, he said.

He added: “I can’t see why it won’t work … I hope everyone is back there and I hope it’s a good, strong comp – both first grade and reserve grade. All they’re trying to do is look after rugby league, and that’s all we want. We just hope we have a great year again like we did last year.”

The Group 19 Second Division draw has been drafted and the governing body’s board will meet with clubs on Tuesday night, before finalising the draw. The clubs are Uralla, Bingara, Tenterfield, Guyra, Walcha, Warialda and Ashford.

Group 19 president Terry Carson is bemused by Bundarra’s concerns about the Second Division. And when asked if the Bears joining Group 19, should Group 4 reject their application, would be a fait accompli, he said: “Definitely not – not the way they’ve treated us, no.”

He added: “I believe that it’s going to be a very good competition. I really don’t know why they don’t think it’s a viable competition. I’ve had this conversation with them a number of times. But that’s their decision, so ...’

Group 4 president Ray McCoy recently said that Bundarra’s entry into Group 4 “was not a foregone conclusion”.

And in October, he said: “I am happy to say Bundarra took out the [2017 Group 4 Second Division] title, which was nice. But at the end of the day, they [Budarra, Uralla and Bingara] are Group 19 clubs … as part of Country Rugby League, if Group 19 can provide a competition for those clubs to play in, then that's what we are here for.”

Tom Taber – a player and the president at Bundarra last season – said the club had made a strategic error by coveting Group 4 participation, as they would be more competitive in Group 19. Playing in Group 19, he added, would involve less travel and ensure more Bears fans would attend away games.

He said: “Group 19 was a bit uncertain to start with but the draws out now and everything. I think it will be a pretty good comp. It will be good for clubs who would struggle in First Division.”

But like his father, Bears captain-coach Luke Deaves believes that Group 4’s reserve grade will be a “much stronger comp” than Group 19’s Second Division.

He said: “I don’t think it will be a real successful comp, the way things are. I think Tenterfield will be way too strong for that Second Division comp – way too strong.”

Deaves said if Group 4 voted against the Bears’ application, “we’ll deal with that”. He added: “It’s not a bother to me either way. If we have to go to Group 19, that’s what we’ll have to do.”