Rugby clubs vote to reject NHRU cull

NEWCASTLE and Hunter Rugby Union’s premier division is set to stay at 10 teams after delegates last night rejected a recommendation to relegate two clubs from the competition.
Nanjing Night Net

Under the proposal Easts and Nelson Bay, who finished bottom in the club championship, would have been dropped to First Division for at least the next twoseasons.

The move to streamline the elite tier was put to the 19 clubs (Premier Rugby, First Division and C-Grade) at a meeting at No.2 Sportsground and went against 12-4. Cessnock, Medowie and Muswellbrook were not represented.

Under the NHRU constitution the board has the power to determine the final make-up of its competitions but given the resounding message last night it is unlikely to go against the clubs’ wishes.

NHRU president Phil Payne was disappointment at the failure to endorse the recommendation and said he would reconsider his position.

‘‘I can’t talk for the other board members but it’s a fairly resounding slap in the face as the president of the union,’’ he said.

‘‘Is it a vote of no confidence? I’m not sure.’’

Nominations for the three competitions close on November 19. The board will then meet to finalise the composition of each division. The current 10 teams have indicated they will again nominate.

‘‘We will reconvene after nominations close and decide the next course of action in a considered fashion without the emotion attached to tonight,’’ Payne said.

Defiant Easts president Andrew Hill said the board was compelled to follow the wishes of the clubs.

‘‘If the board fails to act on the vote by the members it goes to show how out of touch the board is,’’ Hill said.

‘‘The vote was 12-4. The bulk of the NHRU don’t want this to go through.’’

Easts, who were readmitted to Premier Rugby this season after a bitter four-year battle that went to the Supreme Court, begin training tonight.

‘‘It is full steam ahead for us,’’ Hill said. ‘‘The move by the clubs shows they have faith in the code.’’

Nelson Bay President John Edmunds also believed the board were obliged to represent the interests of the clubs and retain the status quo.

A subcommittee, which was open to all clubs, was formed to assess the competition structure after a number of forfeits and subsequent withdrawals of teams in third grade and colts; lopsided scorelines; and concerns over the playing standard, particularly in the lower grades.

Over a three-month period, it analysed a number of competition models in rugby union and other sports, including Northern NSW Football and Newcastle Rugby League.

It determined by dropping two teams from Premier Rugby it would improve the quality not only of the elite tier but also First Division and C-grade.

The premier competition would be reassessed every two years, giving relegated clubs an opportunity to rebuild.

‘‘We did not make this recommendation lightly,’’ restructure subcommittee chairman Paul Coles said.

‘‘If there is no change there is a real fear for the future of the second-tier competition. A fear that the one-team clubs will disappear and First Division will continue to decline.’’

In addressing the meeting before the vote, Payne said the subcommittee had been given a basic charter.

‘‘They were entrusted to come up with a proposal that was to the betterment of Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union,’’ he said.

‘‘There has been no sweetheart deals, there has been no secret agenda or under the table deals with any clubs.

‘‘To suggest otherwise is simply wrong and is offensive.’’

Nelson Bay would have faced relegation if the NHRU culled the competition to 8 teams.

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