'Merger', it seems, is still a dirty word. It's the case in all spheres, business, local councils, newspapers, sport and, yes, rugby league.
You only need to look at how divided the board and fans of St George Illawarra remain two decades after becoming a joint-venture. The term, used in a story by your columnist this week, certainly grabbed the attention of some, including a few at the NSW Rugby League who respectfully reached out to Kickoff after some hackles had been raised elsewhere.
It was used to refer to the Illawarra and Group Seven regions - not specific competitions - which have been grouped together in one of six zones created across the state following the NSWRL-CRL merger.
To some, it may just be the way it appears on a spreadsheet, but it is significant in that the break up of the state into six zones does away with old ancient and rigid CRL boundaries that were immovable. We've seen in recent years that the former 'on-loan' arrangements that involved Shellharbour and Port Kembla can be fraught with difficulty.
To be frank, it's difficult for anyone to move ahead with any certainty given how different the game could look next season. What it does do is open up cross-border possibilities where the door was slammed shut before.
It could see a gradual shift competition structures but, as NSWRL chief executive Dave Trodden put it to Kickoff, it's a process of "evolution not revolution."
"We've created six zones but all the historical structures of regional groups have been retained, and will be retained," Trodden said.
"The [new] zones effectively overlay the existing leagues and regional groups. It does provide the potential in the future for cross-border competitions but that proposition is quite distinct from one that says regional groups are merged or there will no longer be competition in regional groups.
"What we're trying to do is come up with a model that preserves the history of all of those areas but, at the same time, gives us greater flexibility with the way we arrange competitions - in particular so there's competitive balance in competitions."
It's particularly pertinent to the Illawarra-South Coast region given the proximity of the clubs. As this column touched on a fortnight ago, Port Kembla, Berkeley and Dapto are a stone's throw from Warilla, Shellharbour and Albion Park, all of which are a Bryson DeChambeau drive from Wollongong.
The rich histories of the respective clubs and competitions mean devotees naturally see them as distinct but, if you are taking a state-wide view, how could you look at it as anything but one single region?
"We don't want competition structures to be constrained by the older regional boundaries, we want to have the flexibility to arrange competitions, particularly at the older levels, in a way that best suits the clubs and players as opposed to only looking at structures that fit within a certain geography," Trodden said.
"It makes no sense in terms of competition structures to be thinking only in terms of where an artificial line on a boundary exists as opposed to what the best way for everyone to organise their affairs."
The zoning formalises a view that's been long-held, there's been talk for years about the possibility of teams and competitions shifting shape. The old CRL boundaries always prevented that but, post-merger, it's now possible.
We've already seen it at junior level. The IDRL and Group Seven run a merged junior competition, while the Illawarra League has also run under 19s competition with sides from the Shire (which is also part of the NSWRL's 'southern corridor').
A memorandum of understanding with the Dragons in 2017 saw the formation the Illawarra South Coast Dragons in the under 23s, 18s and 16's CRL rep competitions. Development roles and pathways are also streamlined that way.
Steelers junior representative sides are full of Group Seven talent. The - dare we say it - 'merging', of Illawarra South Coast teams and competitions has been happening for years.
To think it shouldn't be considered at higher levels seems a tad foolish. The Illawarra League put in place a salary cap last season that went a long way to closing the gap between the haves and have-nots.
The door for such considerations is now open but Trodden stressed the NSWRL won't be frog-marching anyone through it - nothing will be imposed on leagues or go ahead without their being on board.
"Trying to force solutions on people is a strategy that's never going to be successful," Trodden said.
"If people don't see the benefit of those things then, by definition, they won't be successful. It's evolution rather than revolution and hopefully these structures will develop over the next couple of years, people will see the benefits of it and support it."
It's natural for people who want to preserve what they have. In addressing the issue in our sister publication the South Coast Register on Monday, Group Seven president Scott McLaurin said he and his committee were "happy with their product and where they are positioned on and off the field," and so they should be.
It's one of the best in country footy, a finals series with five genuine contenders is looming even in a COVID-disrupted season. It's a genuine league heartland and nursery.
The Illawarra League copped a battering at the hands of the pandemic but had three sides in elite Sydney competitions, all a credit to their respective colours. It remains one of the premier regional competitions in the state.
Footy is going to look different over the next few years but, provided we don't go jumping at shadows, the new structure is a positive thing for a powerhouse Illawarra-South Coast region defined by its history and nursery, not simply its geography.