Referees abused, a foundation club pulling out, teams forfeiting games and a mooted women's competition falling by the wayside - it was a very dramatic Illawarra District Rugby Union season to say the least.
While it's still six months away before the start of the 2024 season, those who run the game in the Illawarra have a lot of issues to fix to stop - as many respected figures in the game have pointed out - the slow death of rugby.
The Wallabies' struggles at the Rugby World Cup in France suggests this is an underlying concern for Rugby Australia across the country.
Though there are things locally that the IDRU, with the support of the governing body, can do to ensure rugby prospers in the Illawarra for years to come.
On top of the agenda must be doing everything in its power to help Vikings return to Illawarra's first-grade competition next year.
It was a big hit for rugby in the region when Illawarra rugby's oldest club Vikings pulled out of the competition after just one round of the 2023 season.
At the time Vikings cited player shortages for their decision to pull out of the first-grade competition.
This was not the first time player shortages hurt the Vikings, who were forced to forfeit two games in the 2022 season because of a lack of numbers.
Though towards the end of the 2023 season the foundation club returned to the field and took its first steps to returning to the Illawarra first-grade competition on a permanent basis in 2024.
Vikings president Spiro Lozenkovski told the Mercury at the time that Vikings were on track to field two teams in the Illawarra rugby competition in 2024.
For the sake of the competition, here's hoping this pans out.
Protecting Illawarra rugby's referees from abuse.
Illawarra rugby was in the news for all the wrong reasons when a rugby referee with more than 20 years experience quit, citing "unacceptable and disgusting player abuse".
Paul Chambiras told the Mercury at the time he was left with little choice but to call-off the ill-tempered second-grade game between Shamrocks and Kiama because he feared for his and Shamrocks' players safety.
The experienced whistleblower was 'shooked up and inconsolable" after the game and notified the IDRU and Rugby Australia he was quitting refereeing for good.
To the IDRU and the Illawarra Referees Association's credit. they acted swiftly to support the referee and punish the Kiama players responsible.
They are also continuing to work hard with clubs and players to educate them about the importance of respecting referees.
Stopping teams from forfeiting games.
At one stage in the season Avondale only played one game in five weeks.
The Wombats made the grand final but their chances of upstaging the all-conquering Shoalhaven in the decider weren't helped by the fact they missed out on a number of games towards the end f of the season.
Four injury-hit clubs forfeited games against Avondale.
"To be honest I have no words. It's just absolutely heartbreaking to watch our boys turn up and train every week and then not get a game on the weekend," Avondale Rugby Club president Amanda Puckeridge told the Mercury.
Doing everything possible to get a women's competition up and running.
The dreams of Illawarra's talented female rugby players were shattered when the mooted first ever women's competition did not go ahead in 2023.
The move came just days after the IDRU also opted against sending a Illawarra women's representative side to the NSW Country Championships.
Lack of players was the reason given for both not going ahead but some in the game including UOW Mallee Bulls women's captain Grace Wright felt the governing body did not do enough to promote and work towards establishing a women's competition this year.
UOW, to its credit then played in and reached the grand final in the division two Jack Scott Cup 10s competition in Sydney.
Though in the long run it's important there is a pathway for girls to play rugby here in the Illawarra or the game could lose players to rival sports, particularly rugby league.
Rugby clinics like the Her Sport Her Way clinic being held in Wollongong on October 4 is a good step but locally more can and should be done to promote the women's game and run a competition sooner rather than later.
Follow the Shoalhaven path.
This is not so much an issue for the game but perhaps a blueprint other Illawarra rugby teams can follow.
Shoalhaven's success over the last two years has not come by luck.
Having good players is one thing but that does not always guarantee long-term success.
It's obvious all players buy into what the club is trying to achieve because Shoals is a club they have always supported and played for in the Illawarra competition.
Time and again players have told the Mercury that they feel part of a "family" and want to achieve success with their mates.
History shows the back-to-back Illawarra rugby champions have done that in spades.
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