It is still in its formative stages but Central North Junior Rugby Union president Renee Park said the new North West Junior Rugby Regional Youth Bridging Competition is shaping up well.
One of the most significant changes to the junior rugby landscape, the competition is designed to provide a consistent and structured competition for boys and girls between 13 and 18-years of age.
Open to school and club teams from across Central North and New England, Park said games will predominantly be played in hubs on a Friday night, “with teams not travelling any more than an hour and a half”.
“Once every month we’ll bring them together for a big carnival,” she said.
The existing Central North junior colts (under-17s) competition will be folded into the new model, and there will be an option to play on Saturday if both teams so wish.
The competition will run alongside the existing Sunday gala days, which will take in the under-6s through to under-12s.
“What it will bring is an opportunity for boys and girls to play in a competition,” Park said.
“Right now there isn’t any.”
Dwindling junior numbers have been a concern for a while and have prompted several structural changes over the years, but so far they haven’t had the desired effect.
The situation had effectively reached a crisis point for the colts with only Pirates and Narrabri confirmed to field under-17s sides.
“We had to do something because our colts are in a bit of a mess,” Central North president Tony Byrnes conceded.
“I think we all agree this is a good way forward.”
He believes it will provide a more robust competition but accepts that it won’t work perfectly in the first year.
Park is under no illusions either.
“It’s something that this year won’t look how we want it to finish,” she said.
“It’s a work in progress.”
The signs are promising though with eight teams already, and potentially another two, signed-up in the under-14s. Last year in the Sunday competition there were only three to four under-14 teams.
Things are also looking good on the representative front with “very encouraging” numbers attending the recent trial days.
“We’ve had just under 300 attend trials, which is really good,” Park said.
It has created a few headaches for the coaches, albeit good headaches.
“Particularly in the under 11s. We had over 85 trialling there,” she said.
The numbers have only served to reinforce the motivation to “put a competition in there so they can carry on with their junior rugby”.
Park said the numbers are a bit lower in the ages where they haven’t had any structured competition, and advised the opens (17s and 18s) are still looking for players.
The under-17s girls are also a bit short.
The coaches will have an opportunity to see the players in a game situation next Sunday (March 11), with trial games, for all ages, organised against Central West at Coonabarabran.