Joint competition delayed but New England "positive" about season

The New England and Central North Rugby Union governing bodies have hit pause on plans to form a joint competition for 2018.

The Zone organisations met on Sunday to discuss draw options for the upcoming season only to be halted with both parties and clubs concerned failing to come to an agreement. 

Two options were discussed – “option two was that every club plays everybody and option five the clubs split into two conferences, roughly east/west and play each other within those two conferences and then the top clubs in each conference join to play off the final series,” New England president David Clifton said earlier this week.

The two Zones had hoped to come up with a solution within two weeks but decided to delay the joint venture until next year. 

“On Tuesday morning I had a phone call from Tony Byrnes, who suggested what we probably should do is defer the proposed joint competition to 2019, to allow both Zones to continue the discussion to see whether we could come up with something that was acceptable to the clubs in both Zones to implement a joint venture competition in 2019,” Clifton said. 

“I then rang around our clubs and said 'this is what is being proposed, what is your view of that' and generally it was accepted that was what we should do. When we set out on this I think it was probably an overly ambitious project in the time we had available before the start of the 2018 season. We didn't realise some of the difficulties we would encounter on the way through.”

New England second grade club Gwydir and Central North first grade’s Barraba had already begun discussions to combine and form two grades as well as a women’s team. 

“Gwydir were disappointed as they had gone well down the path of a joint arrangement with Barraba whereby Barraba would have provided the first grade team, Gwydir would have provided the second grade team but with the ability for the players to float between those two grades,” Clifton said. 

Sunday’s meeting saw Tamworth Magpies successfully apply to leave Central North and join New England from this year. 

Although they will revert back to a five-team first grade competition, Clifton said having the Magpies in the New England competition will only boost the sport in the area. 

“The biggest problem that New England had was that we were looking down the barrel of four first grade teams for the 2018 competition,” he said. 

“Each Zone now will proceed on to prepare their own draw for 2018 but we are going to keep talking. It is a positive thing.

“Both Zones are absolutely committed to working through to try and get something in place for 2019.”