Rugby league: former Sydney first-grader Jim Leis calls for urgent action to boost country rugby league

HARD TALK: Former Sydney first-grader Jim Leis says more needs to be done to shore up country rugby league. Photo: Peter Hardin
HARD TALK: Former Sydney first-grader Jim Leis says more needs to be done to shore up country rugby league. Photo: Peter Hardin

Former top-flight footballer Jim Leis believes more needs to be done to make sure rugby league doesn’t go by the wayside in the bush.

It was announced in October that Wests Tigers would play an NRL premiership game against the Newcastle Knights at Scully Park in 2018, and Leis said the game was “a step in the right direction” for the promotion of rugby league in the country.

However, Tamworth-based Leis – who played for Western Suburbs, Canterbury and Cronulla in the 1980s – said much more needed to be done to encourage juniors to play and stay in the game.

“One NRL game isn’t going to fix something that’s been bleeding for 15-20 years,” he said, in reference to junior rugby league development in the region.

“It’s good to see the NRL and the Wests Tigers are bringing a game to Tamworth. There’s a beautiful facility over at Wests and it’s good for it to be utilised for the promotion of rugby league.

“Bringing an NRL game to Tamworth is probably addressing a few of the issues as far as the promotion of rugby league in smaller towns goes.

“I don’t think there’s been enough funds put into those areas, unfortunately, and it’s very sad to see our particular group in such an unhealthy position in First Division but very healthy in Second Division.”

Leis – who will be one of many rugby league supporters at the Men Of League charity bowls day at South Tamworth Bowling Club on Sunday – said more investment in junior development would not fix Group 4 immediately but it would help the competition in years to come.

Group 4 is planning to amalgamate the First Division and the Second Division competitions next year in a bid to breathe life into the the struggling First Division.

“It’s still to be seen if it’s going to be successful or not – at least they’re trying something,” Leis said.

“Second Division was healthy and First Division wasn’t competitive. They’re trying to do something about it and hopefully it works.”

Sign-on for Men of League’s bowls day is at 9am. It costs $15, with lunch included.

There will an auction that will include an Australian jersey signed by former captains. A Country jersey signed by the 2016 team will also be auctioned.

“We’ve had about 50 donations from different sponsors throughout the Tamworth and Kootingal communities,” said Men Of League Foundation’s Tamworth branch president Kevin Robinson.