IT’S GAMES ON, AGAIN
Return of second-tier, junior comps welcome
TRAINING but not playing this year was “tough and frustrating” for emerging Bulldogs forward James Roumanos.
But the 21-year-old and other budding first-graders will not have to go through that again with the NSW Rugby League committing to an expanded pathway system which includes no less than 12 competitions from under-16 to various open aged.
Among them will be a 10-team NSW Cup which is slated to kick off on March 13 and run 24 rounds. Roumanos’ Bulldogs have linked with Mounties as their feeder club.
“It was tough and frustrating,” said Roumanos, who joined the Bulldogs at preseason last week. “There were a few of us in the same boat. We knew we were doing it for the boys on the weekend.
“I played one game that whole year. That’s probably the least amount of I’ve played since I was nine. There were times it felt like it wasn’t ending. The same cycle each week. The staff made it enjoyable mixing up the training sessions and trying to have fun by having our last session of the week a dress-up. It’ll feel weird the first time we play a proper game. It’ll take a little bit to get used to.
“For forwards you need that time in reserve grade and not having that week in, week out football delays that.”
The Raiders have opted out of having a NSW Cup aligned feeder club and will instead send their over-aged players not selected in the NRL to the local competition. Discussions are well advanced between the NRL and the NSWRL to ensure even if there is a bubble, NRL-contracted players will play NSW Cup.
Players may be asked to take a COVID test after each game before being allowed rejoin the NRL squad’s bubble, according to NSWRL boss Dave Trodden.
“Assuming a bubble still exists next year we have been in close contact in ways to manage that,” Trodden said.
“We are confident we will be able to manage that. One of the things that was really emphasised this year in the absence of having a second tier competition is how important it is.
“Everyone understands why the competition had a hiatus but being able to run the other competitions during the course of the year, what it did for us was it identified to us and our participants that it’s very possible to conduct a competition safely not withstanding COVID circumstances.”
For 2021, the Harold Matthews and SG Ball age brackets have been bumped up a year to under-17 and under-19 respectively while the Andrew Johns (regional under-16s) and Laurie Daley (regional under-18s) competitions will return. They kick off on February 6.
“We’ve been thinking about lifting the age for a while,” Trodden said. “Now was the obvious time to do it, so the players who missed out on a year of development wouldn’t be penalised.”
The Tarsha Gale Cup and Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership will also be played.
The under-21 Jersey Flegg is a season-long competition involving 10 teams and 24 rounds while other openaged competitions include a 22-round Sydney Shield and a revamped President’s Cup competition, with the grand final to be played on the same day as the NSW Cup.
The NRL will announce its draw this week.