Championships could be for under 23s only

COUNTRY Rugby League players over the age of 23 will be void of any representative football should a proposal to change the structure of the CRL Country Championships be accepted on Friday.

The CRL will hold its annual general meeting on Friday with a proposal to alter the open championships, which from 2018 could be reverted to under 23s, on top of the agenda.

With the National Rugby League undergoing a pathways review that resulted in the axing of the under 20s Holden Cup, the CRL believes a change to under 23s for its showpiece rep competition will both even the field – Newcastle and Illawarra traditionally dominate – and provide young players late to develop a viable pathway back to the NRL.

CRL chief executive officer Terry Quinn revealed he’s spoken to NRL clubs about the proposal, with all 16 “absolutely” for the change as a means of talent identification from 2018 and beyond.

It’s envisage the new under 23s championship will run concurrently with the pre-season under 16s and under 18s championships, which Western appeared in the final of both in 2016.

“We’ve spoken to NRL clubs and they’re supportive of the 16s and 18s concept through to the 23s,” Quinn said.

“They can house players back in these areas on the edge, that can’t quite make it. They’ll play in those comps.”

Quinn said the details around the age, currently at under 23s, were still to be finalised. The proposal was met positively by Western officials at the Rams AGM last week.

“That’s what we hoped,” Quinn said of the Rams response.

“We’re looking down those lines, we’re thinking at the moment we’ve got guys 31, 32 years of age in the Country side and they’re not going to go anywhere in the game as far as getting back into NSW Cup or back to the NRL. 

“At 23, you’ve still go those aspirations to do that, and we believe it’ll be a much better competition. 

“It’ll even the competition out right across the board as well, we believe. You won't have Newcastle or Illawarra dominate as they do at the moment.”

He said the chance to foster some of the game’s brightest talent in country areas was also a drawcard to the proposal.

“That’s one of the reasons for it. That whole pathway will be good for the bush, and that’ll start from 16s, 18s, … through to that 23s. We believe it’s a pathway and hopefully they can make it,” Quinn said. “[At this stage] 23s is an age, right or wrong, we’re not too sure yet. Hopefully we’ll come to a consensus, but if it’s start getting too old we fall back into the same format.”

CHANGE MOOTED: The Western Rams open age team competed in the Country Championships this year, but it could revert to under 23s.

CHANGE MOOTED: The Western Rams open age team competed in the Country Championships this year, but it could revert to under 23s.