"I WISH they'd done it 10 years ago" - Group 10 reserve grade premiership winning coach Ben Gunn has given the four grade Western-wide competition in 2023 proposal a definitive thumbs up.
This season as Gunn guided the Bathurst Panthers to premiership glory, it was playing under Group 10's banner in an eight-team competition.
But a push is now on for reserve grade and league tag competitions to follow in the footsteps of Group 10s first grade and under 18s teams and merge with Group 11 in a Western premiership.
It's an initiative which has Gunn's backing.
"From a competitive point of view I think it's great step forward," he said.
"I think it's a great concept, to be honest I wish they'd done it 10 years ago."
The Panthers have already had a taste of what playing a Group 11 opponent is like given they participated in this year's Western Premiers Challenge.
Gunn's men in black added to their Group 10 title by defeating Group 11 premiers Dubbo CYMS 29-24 in that game.
But it wasn't just having another medal around their necks that the Panthers enjoyed about the Western clash.
"Give we'd had our grand final the week before it was like 'Now we have to get up again'. But once we got there, things went into gear, that competitiveness, it was like 'We're resetting and going again here'," Gunn said.
"They loved it, not knowing who you're playing is a bonus.
"Each year you've got an idea of who you're playing, who you're danger players are, where you can attack. Coming up against an opponent you know nothing about is enjoyable and it's enjoyable as a coach too because you're actually coaching the game.
"In that game against CYMS I didn't spend too much time on the field personally because I had to think about where could we win a game of football. I didn't know about the opposition.
"So from a coaching perspective it was really enjoyable. When you play in a comp where you know the teams, you work on it during the week at training and that's it."
Having played in Group 11 for Forbes before making the switch to Group 10 as a Cowra Magpie in 2014, Gunn has seen what both competitions have to offer.
He believes pitting the sides against each other in a Western Premiership would lead to new rivalries and add another element to the which Group is better debate.
"Even though we're only next door, they are two different brands of football to be honest. I think both competitions have their strengths and weaknesses," Gunn said.
"I find in Group 11 you've got to score 40 points to win and in Group 10 I find the consistency in the speed of the game is a little bit more.
"Hell yeah we have that rivalry, it's blooded in. Coming from Group 11 too, being a Forbes boy, for me there's nothing better than beating Dubbo CYMS.
"Credit to CYMS, they own it too, they're the sort of club that when they get to pre-season, they know they're the big dogs and know they're going to have to work hard."
As for concerns over travel placing strain on clubs to get the numbers they need for a healthy reserve grade competition, Gunn feels it should not be an issue.
In fact he said it is something clubs could embrace to foster a greater camaraderie within the Western region.
"Travel's not a problem, not this day and age, let's be honest. I played in Group 11 when we used to play in Cobar. It's what you make of it in my thoughts," Gunn said.
"It's a good way to make relationships with other clubs. Wind the clock back a bit and give a bit of sportsmans' etiquette, return back to the oppositions clubhouse - I think it wouldn't hurt to bring that back in to some of the younger ones, it creates a good atmosphere and mateship.
"We hosted the grand final here and after the game, the turnout from Lithgow to come back to our clubhouse was just unbelievable. Hopefully we can return the favour next year."
Though a four-grade Western-wide competition is yet to be rubber stamped, the concept was supported at Sunday's Group 10 annual general meeting and has backing from Group 11 clubs as well.
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