THE Illawarra Rugby League has given its “in principle” support for a dramatic re-structuring of the Country Rugby League championships in 2017.
The CRL confirmed on Friday that an under 23’s competition will replace the current open-age format next year while the ‘tier one’ and ‘tier two’ model will also be scrapped. The new competition will comprise 10 teams divided into Northern and Southern regions with the winner of each to play each other for the CRL title.
Illawarra has been the dominant force in the CRL championships for the last decade, claiming eight of the last 11 titles. Newcastle broke the stranglehold this season but the dominance of the traditional regional powerhouses has seen calls a revamp of the competition.
CRL chief executive Terry Quinn said the recommendation, that was successfully carried at last week’s AGM, would bring the tournament in line with an ARL Commission restructure that will see the scrapping of the NYC and return to state-based competitions in 2018.
“One of the things we looked at [at the AGM] was how we could revamp our championships and under 23s was mentioned given our peak participation age in the championships all throughout any of the country areas is 19-23,” Quinn said.
“It also fits in with the pathways model that the NRL are putting up.
“The [under] 20’s are going back to state-based competitions [in 2018] and we looked at how we can give the guys that don’t quite make that next level a chance to further their careers. It was a recommendation put to the [AGM] and it went through quite convincingly.
“We believe the new format will provide a greater opportunity for regional players to progress through the rugby league pathways whether it be into the state cup or ultimately the NRL.”
The revamp could end Illawarra’s long reign as CRL kings but IDRL general manager Chris Bannerman was hopeful it will be a positive move.
“In principle we support it, we’re certainly not against it,” Bannerman said.
“I think [the CRL] have looked at the changes at NRL level around the NYC and the move back to a state-based competitions and it might just be the way of the future given the other changes in the game’s elite pathways.
“It’s a big change but we’re hoping a change for the better.”
How regions will be divided is yet to be determined but a combined Illawarra-South Coast team drawing players from the Coal League and Group Seven competitions has been mooted.
“There’s discussion around Illawarra and Group Seven being merged into the one entity in rep football,” Bannerman said.
“The 16’s and the 18’s were already going that way next year so moving the new 23s into the same structure would make sense.
“If you look at our current pathways with the Dragons through our Steelers junior reps it’s full of kids from Illawarra and the South Coast. Any chance for us to widen that net will be good for our respective competitions.”