A move by the Illawarra Rugby League to rejuvenate junior playing stocks has brought swift results.
A new under-17s competition will feature as many as 10 teams in just its first year.
A large exodus of players from the game at the age of 16 saw the u18s competition reduced to five sides in 2013.
The decline prompted the Illawarra league’s board of management to implement a colts (u19s) and u17s divisions for this season in place of the u18s competition.
The healthy number of local clubs fielding sides in the new u17s division was boosted by an approach from the Cronulla Junior Rugby League, which had a similar exodus of players aged of 17, to enter three teams in a combined league.
De La Salle-Caringbah, Cronulla-Caringbah and Como-Janalli will join Thirroul, Wests, Helensburgh, Woonona-Corrimal, Dapto, Collegians Port Kembla and possibly the Shellharbour Stingrays in the new competition.
Illawarra District Rugby League manager Chris Bannerman said the team numbers had exceeded the board’s expectations.
‘‘We didn’t anticipate so much success in the first year given it’s a development competition but you’d have to say it’s been a raging success already,’’ he said.
‘‘We’re looking at having potentially 10 or 11 teams, which is beyond our expectations.
‘‘If we had got six initially we’d have been happy because that constitutes a viable competition, eight would’ve been great so to go beyond that is fantastic.
‘‘Wests, Collegians and Port Kembla are just a little bit shy of the numbers and are looking for some more interested kids but the signs are very encouraging.’’
Bannerman said that combining the competition with the Cronulla league would be mutually beneficial and even provide a blueprint for future collaboration.
‘‘I don’t think the traditional boundaries that were created many years ago have as much relevance these days so we’re certainly prepared to look not only in our district but beyond our borders to create viable competitions.
‘‘They’ve restructured like we have with 17s and 19s for similar reasons but they ran into a few roadblocks; the 17s particularly hadn’t quite got the response they were looking for,’’ Bannerman said.