ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE
Former NRL star Jason Ryles can see a silver lining to the Illawarra Coal League's dire situation.
He said a reduction from eight to six teams would raise the standard of the competition.
The Shellharbour Sharks defection to Group Seven in November was exacerbated this week by confirmation that Berkeley won't field a side in first grade next year due to a lack of player numbers.
The newly-appointed Wests captain-coach believes that the overall quality of football in the competition will improve.
"The better players from the other teams are going to be looking for somewhere to play first grade and I think that's probably going to make it a stronger comp," Ryles said.
"The boys here are used to having those top three or four teams but now there's going to be six strong teams in the competition.
"It's good that there's a quality competition in that sense."
Ryles admitted that the Coal League would be in trouble should they lose another side.
"You wouldn't want to be playing in a five-team comp - there'd be real big problems then - but that's [six teams] the way it's going to be next season.
"That's all I'm worried about at the moment."
Collegians official Bruce Prior admitted that the departure of two clubs had placed the long-term future of the league in jeopardy.
"It probably leaves us in a precarious situation," he said.
"Ideally you'd like to have eight or nine sides. If we lose another side, it's getting to the stage where the competition itself is untenable.
"I think, unfortunately, it's the nature of the beast at the moment.
"Things are tough everywhere; it's not just rugby league."
While a six-team competition was far from ideal, Prior said any suggestions that it amounted to the end of the Coal League were premature.
"We've had tough times before in the competition so I'm sure we'll bounce back," Prior said.
"It's been a strong competition as long as I've been involved, which is over 40 years.
"The sides that are in the competition are very good sides. It'll be a very strong competition next year."
Thirroul Butchers president Mitch Bate agreed that the competition couldn't afford to lose any more teams.
He also agreed with Ryles that, in the short-term, the level of football may improve as a result of the reduction in team numbers.
"Five teams wouldn't be sustainable but at the end of the day we can't worry about what happened," Bate said.