Newcastle rugby: Is it time for the a joint NHRU and Central Coast competition?

COMBINED FORCES: Wanderers halfback burst through a hole playing for Newcastle against the Central Coast at Cahill Oval in final of the 2010 Country Championships. Picture: Stuart Quinn

IT has often been mooted but until now has never progressed past the thought-bubble stage –a premier rugby union competition encompassing the Hunter and Central Coast zones.

Both zones, traditional powerhouses, have encountered difficulttimes in recent seasons.

Players number have dropped dramatically and the disparity between the bigger and smaller clubs is growing.

Former Newcastle giants The Waratahs were relegated to Divisional Rugby this season, leaving nine clubs in the top competition here.

Doubts over the future of Lake Macquarie, who have conceded more than 100 points twice this season,in Premier Rugby remain.

Entrance/North Lakes withdrew from the Central Coast premier competition in 2016, also leaving nine clubs.

Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union president Bill Clifton is putting together a Strategic Plan for the game and has calledfor input from all stakeholders.

Former Newcastle and Hunter Juniors president Marcus Vaughan believes the answer is a combined competition between the neighbouring zones.

Vaughan has produced a blueprint which he hopes will at least be a discussion point as part of the Strategic Plan.

The combined competition would involve two tiers –Premier Division and President’s Cup.

The Premier Division, which requires each club to have two grades,would be split into Series A and Series B.

The top five teams from the NHRU and CCRU, based on first-grade tables, would compete in Series A.

The bottom four teams in the NHRU and CCRU plus Newcastle clubs, The Waratahs and Easts, would be in Series B.

Promotion and relegation would operate involving the bottom two clubs from Series A and the top two from Series B.

Presidents Cup would also have A and B Grades.

A-Grade would consist of the eight NHRU clubs with third grade sides, plus the top-four second-division sides from the CCRU.

The NHRU divisional teams plus the bottom four teams from the CCRU second division would make up B-grade. Promotion and relegation would also operate.

The under-19s would be ajoint competition as would the women.

Each zone would run their own representative sides at the Country Championships.

“I think we need to be proactive,” said Vaughan. “Short-term there would be some teething problems but if it works, you will have 29 teams in two tiers with promotion and relegation.

“Most people I have spoken to think it’s a good idea, at the very least worth exploring.

Both zones would still keep their identity through the representative program.”

NHRU general manager Andy Fairful was awareof the proposal.

“From our view, we are open to looking at any structure through the strategic plan process,” Fairful said.

“Something like a joint competition would require NSW Country Rugby Union and the other zone to be very agreeable.”

The four-team Newcastle under-19s competition is playing three rounds against Central Coast opposition at present.

However, there have been two forfeits in two rounds, with teams seemingly reluctant to travel.

That shapes as one of the biggest issues for a combined senior competition.

Hornsby is the most southern club in CCRU and would involve a 223km drive to Muswellbrook if they were in the same competition. The majority of clubs are withing 100km of each other.

“In Central North and Central West competitions, they regularly travel three hours for a game,” Vaughan said.For the betterment of the game, especially when we have two strong zones, which could become stronger,the distance thing is not an argument.”

HOW IT WOULD LOOKBased on the current (round 6) tables as per the NHRU and CCRU P1, P3, Divisional (NHRU) andPresidents Cup (CCRU) competitions.

PREMIER DIVISION:All clubs with at least two grades will compete in Premier Division.

SERIES A:10 teams in two grades; 5 Hunter and 5 Central Coast – Merwether, Wanderers, Nelson Bay, Hamilton, Maitland, Ourimbah, Terrigal, Warnervale, Avoca, Woy Woy.

SERIES B:10 teams in two grades;6 Hunter and 4 Central Coast plus The Waratahs and Easts –Southern Beaches, University, Singleton, Lake Macquarie, The Waratahs, Easts, The Lakes, Gosford, Kariong, Hornsby

PRESIDENTS CUP – A:12 teams,8 Hunter and 4 Central Coast –Merewether 1, Singleton, Maitland, Southern Beaches, Wanderers, Hamilton, Medowie, University, Ourimbah, Terrigal, The Lakes, Avoca

PRESIDENTS CUP – B:11 teams;8 Hunter and 3 Central Coast –Merewether 2, Southern Lakes, Cessnock, Cooks Hill, Singleton Army, Muswellbrook, Pokolbin, Griffins, The Entrance, Woy Woy, Gosford.

U19’S COLTS:9 teams; 4 Hunter and 5 Central Coast – Hamilton, Merewether, Avoca, Ourimbah, Terrigal, Wanderers, Nelson Bay, Woy Woy, Warnervale

WOMEN:Hunter have a 15-a-side competition (5 teams) whilst the Central Coast run a 7’s competition (6teams). If the numbers grow in the Central Coast competition enough, then a combined 15-a-sidecompetition could run. For those Hunter clubs that may not have enough players for 15’s then acombined 7’s competition.

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