New Real-NRL structure dumps 23s

THE Newcastle Rugby League has handed down its vision for the next three years, a blueprint that chief executive officer Matt Harris hopes will increase player participation.
Shanghai night field

The league’s board endorsed the recommendations on Tuesday night and the manifesto was distributed yesterday to the nine Real NRL clubs.

It follows a long process in which all clubs were interviewed about the challenges facing the competition.

Under the new structure, the unpopular under23s competition has been scrapped and open age will return to complement firsts and reserves.

‘‘There were a handful of players who were not able to get games at clubs because they weren’t at that reserve-grade level and were too old to go into the under23s,’’ Harris said.

‘‘There were a number who were lost to Newcastle and to Hunter [Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League] or had to sit out.’’

An under19s competition will replace the under18s.

Under17s will be reinstated at junior level.

Real NRL clubs will have to field sides in all four grades or face expulsion.

The pre-season competition has been scrapped after it failed to gain widespread support over the past two years.

The most radical change involves the relationship between the Real NRL clubs and their NHRL affiliates.

To improve what has been at times a frosty relationship between first- and second-tier teams, Real NRL clubs will be required to have representation from senior and junior affiliate clubs on their board.

Similarly, Real NRL clubs will be required to appoint a delegate to their affiliates.

For the first time the draws for the top flight and second division will be developed together so Real NRL clubs’ home games are not on the same day as their affiliates’.

Most Real NRL clubs have indicated a willingness to play home games on Saturdays.

That means most second-division games will be played on Sundays, and Harris hopes that promotes sharing of players and resources.

‘‘If the affiliate and their district club play on the same day in the same area, they’re in competition with each other, and that’s not in the best interests of football,’’ he said.

What is not addressed in the restructure is a plan to return to a 10-team competition.

Asked if the new structure, which covers the next three years, meant the league would not be unable to introduce a 10th team until at least 2018, Harris said: ‘‘Not necessarily, but in reality you could expect it will be closer to that than next year.

‘‘The soonest would be in maybe two years.’’

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