Rugby league: Manilla Tigers unable to attract enough players to continue in Group 4

HEARTBREAK: Seven months after celebrating their 100th anniversary, the Manilla Tigers are gone. Photo: Gareth Gardner
HEARTBREAK: Seven months after celebrating their 100th anniversary, the Manilla Tigers are gone. Photo: Gareth Gardner

The Manilla Tigers will sit out the 2018 season, delivering a blow to Group 4’s dramatic overhaul of its competitions and coming less than a year after the club celebrated their 100th anniversary.  

Group 4 revealed the news when it released the latest version of its 2018 draw for all competitions on Wednesday. Its president Ray McCoy described the development as “disappointing” and “very sad” but said the Tigers simply did not have enough players.

McCoy said he and Tigers president Jennene Beale “worked really closely” over the past three months and “did everything we possibly could do to get Manilla up and running”.

GLORY DAYS: The Manilla Tigers side that captured the 1961 Group 4 first-division premiership.

GLORY DAYS: The Manilla Tigers side that captured the 1961 Group 4 first-division premiership.

“At the end of the day the players didn’t turn up to training,” he said. “They had a great coach in Andrew Loveday. So they had good things in place. But the players chose not to go to training or they aligned with other teams.”

McCoy said he and Beale spoke regularly over the past month and decided last Thursday night after Tigers training that their quest was futile. The decision means the Tigers will also not field a ladies league tag side.

McCoy said Group 4 could not let Manilla or any other club start the season if there was concerns they would fold during the year, given the “brand new restructure” of the competitions and the Group’s desire for “the footy to be really solid”.

He added: “At the end of the day they didn’t get a response [from players]. People who made commitments didn’t come forward.”

He is hopeful the club will be back in 2019, as is Beale.

Beale said the club could not have done more to attract players. Not even the offer of free beer and a barbecue worked, she said, adding that she was “astounded” and “confounded” by the lack of interest.

She said: “We’ve gone from grand finalists in 2016, to 100 years in 2017 to nothing.”

Beale, recently elected president after previously serving as the club’s secretary, said the committee delayed the decision to sit out 2018 longer than advisable in the hope their desperation would lure players.

“The support just isn’t here in town,” she said. “We had to call our AGM twice to get a committee.”

Trevor Hatch, a former Tiger and the chairman of the club’s centenary committee, is “bitterly disappointment” over the development.

He said: “The town’s a bit upset as well. Small towns rely on footy to bring the town together and give people something to do and something to talk about.”

Hatch claimed that Group 4 did not provide enough information about what it was doing with the revamped reserve-grade competition, after last season scrapping the successful second-division comp the Tigers had played in.

“Bugger all,” he said when asked what Manilla locals knew about unfolding developments.

The loss of Manilla follows the Collegian Warriors pulling out of Group 4 this year and Walcha opting for Group 19’s new second-division competition over staying in Group 4. Group 19 clubs Bingara and Uralla, who had played in Group 4, also opted for the second-division comp. 

Group 4 last week rejected Bundarra’s application to play in its reserve-grade competition this year. On Friday night the club replaced their board and signalled a desire to play in Group 19’s second division, although the Bears doubt that they will have enough players to do so.

The new Group 4 season starts on April 28-29. There will be eight first-grade teams, seven reserve-grade teams, 11 league tag teams and seven under-18 teams.