Coal League manager plans radical shake-up

RUGBY LEAGUE 

The possibility of a mid-season knockout tournament and the rejuvenation of the Illawarra Coal League to eight teams will be top of Chris Bannerman's agenda when he assumes the competition's manager role next month.

Still reeling from an off-season where Shellharbour defected to Group 7 and Berkeley announced they wouldn't field a first-grade team, Bannerman will take the reins of a Coal League reduced to just six teams next year.

His most pressing issue will be to plan for 2015, with Coal League administrators desperate to return the competition to its former status.

That means massaging Berkeley's dwindling playing numbers while potentially seeking Port Kembla's reintroduction to Illawarra's premier competition.

It would alleviate the need for a four-team finals series, which seems likely with only six clubs fielding first grade sides in 2014.

"Getting the competition back to eight teams is a priority and we're hopefully having a look at 2015 as that time," Bannerman said.

"On the surface it appears to be a very challenging time, but there's good people involved on the board and they deserve credit for having the courage to make change and seeing the need to change.

"The situation at the moment is a temporary blip, but we want to get the competition back to its strongest status as soon as possible.

"I'd like to think a club like Berkeley with a good, strong junior league aren't missing those opportunities to bring kids into grade.

"It's certainly a situation we'll be examining and I'd like to think we may be able to help with some strategies to maximise the flow-on of kids from the junior ranks to the senior ranks."

Bannerman's appointment comes after the Illawarra District Rugby League Football Club's wide-ranging review of its football operations.

Bannerman has finished his role as the Sydney-based Men Of League's executive officer after previous stints working on the 2008 World Cup and with Cycling Australia.

He has already floated the possibility of discussing at board level the introduction of a mid-year competition, which could be put to Coal League clubs.

"I think there's maybe some opportunities to examine competition structures and even look at something like a Challenge Cup-style competition incorporated into the season if clubs feel that way," he said.

"It's something I'd like to see put on the table for discussion.

"I think we also need to do more to be in the social media space and communicate more with young people with what's going on in the game.

"If we can put the structures in place to make sure players are being brought through to the senior grades, then I think we're doing our job pretty well."

Bannerman begins his job with the Coal League on January 20.

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