It is looking more and more likely that Group 9 will have to work with a players group from 2022 onwards.
The group is set to include one player from each Group 9 club, and they will represent the interests of all players in the competition.
Already the likes of Tommy Jeffery from Tumut and Derek Hay from Gundagai have been put forward as potential club representatives and the concept will likely see the group meet to discuss the Group 9 competition and offer player insight for any potential changes and future draws.
Group 9 Chairman Andrew Hinchcliffe confirmed that there would be a player’s group of some sorts and that opening up lines of communication with players was their main prerogative.
“We are looking to establish a player group to enhance communications, and when we know we are on the cusp of change, to ensure players feel a part of change,” Hinchcliffe said.
“We want to consider their feedback more intimately than we have previously and make sure we communicate as openly and freely as we can, so we can justify why change has been implemented.”
Hinchcliffe, who plied his trade with the Temora Dragons as a player and coach before moving into an administrative role with Group 9, said it was important all group 9 ‘stakeholders’ had a voice.
“From my personal perspective, it’s important you keep all stakeholders up to speed with current progress and future plans,” Hinchcliffe said.
“We want to give people the ability to provide feedback, which is super valuable when making important decisions.”
The move to create a player’s representative group has been in the works since earlier this year, and a major backer was Tumut player, Jed Pearce, who initially raised his concerns with fellow Group 9 players during commitments with the Riverina Bulls representative side.
The front rower isn’t happy with how the 2021 Group 9 season unfolded, including the length of the competition, the placement of byes and the fact Junee get to host home games without entering a first-grade team.
“I’ve been extremely vocal with how the competition has been laid out to us and I’m not the only one,” Pearce said.
“The season is too long, and after Junee dropped out, the draw should have been reworked but they just didn’t think about the players.”
Pearce was adamant a working players group would help Group 9 understand what players wanted out of a season.
“They need a player’s point of view on the competition, not just the board talking about it,” Pearce said.
“We are the ones playing, getting injured and putting our bodies on the line. We want our point of view expressed.”
Pearce used this weekend’s match between Tumut and Gundagai as a perfect example of what he believed was wrong with this season.
“One thing I wish we did have was more byes, or that they were more spread out,” Pearce said.
“I feel that this weekend should be a bye. I think it’s silly we are playing Gundagai a third time this season and especially twice in three weeks.
“It’s one of the toughest games for us to play, and that makes it a lot harder.”
Tigers President Marty Hay was behind the creation of a player’s group and he suggested that Pearce should be leading discussions.
“Pearcy would an ideal bloke to lead that group; he has been around a lot and he has played at that high level,” Hay said.
“There definitely needs to be player input; they are implementing that with some sort of player’s forum, which I think is great.
“Derek is going to be the Gundagai rep and it should give them a voice.”
Hay agreed that this Sunday’s game between Tumut and Gundagai could have been avoided, but he felt for Group 9, who he believed were caught between a rock and a hard place when finalising a draw that pleased everyone.
“The issue I’ve got with this weekend is that we have to pay the players to perform and we get nothing back,” Hay said.
“We get $500 and Tumut get $500, but we are both out of pocket several thousand dollars and the ferocity of the game is always the same, it doesn’t matter if one team is first and one last, it is always tough on both sides, and to have to back up and play each other again so quickly is hard on them.
“I support Group 9 though, they are trying to support Junee, and we need them in the group; it’s just the luck of the draw and I feel or both sides.”
In the meantime, Group 9 have been working with players to settle issues with the draw, having sent out a player’s survey back in May, asking questions such as preferred days to play, a preferred length of the season, comments on club culture, and willingness to travel for games.
These results were only recently sent back to clubs, and the competition organisers will look to use the data, along with keeping an open dialogue with stakeholders, before making any key decisions ahead of 2022.