Long season awaits Blues

The Tumut Blues face a long, 21-week, 18 round Group 9 competition, in which they will play all teams both home and away.

An 18-round competition might not have been what the Tumut Blues were advocating for at the Group 9 Annual General Meeting on Sunday, but the club is nonetheless content to play a full home and away season.

Temora and Albury will re-join the fold, while Cootamundra will likely join the George Tooke Shield, meaning nine teams will contest the trophy. 

Blues president Bryan Black attended the meeting on behalf of the 2020 grand finalists and explained the competition would be played for as long as possible, with all clubs set to play each other twice, meaning 16 games, through 18 rounds, played over a 21-week period. 

“It was an interesting meeting.  We are playing 16 games over 18 rounds with two byes in there, plus there will be two extra byes, plus a split round,” Black said.

“Cootamundra is out, and there could be a change to the draw depending on Junee and whether they play.

“They (Junee) have registered for next season, but they haven’t signed a coach, they asked whether they could just play reserve grade, but that is up in the air. They would have to write a letter to the board and it would be put to teams before any decision was made.”

Black wasn’t joyed by the fact that the competition was spread out over 18 rounds, but admitted teams found out a 12-round competition was off the table at the Group 9 meeting, with New South Wales Rugby League rules dictating that a “Group” competition needed to be played for a minimum of 14 rounds. 

“It wasn’t really in our interest for us to play more than 14 rounds, but it got brought up that if the competition was under 14 rounds, it wouldn’t be a Group competition, and instead would be a cup or shield competition.” Black said. 

“We would rather it be a Group competition.”

The Blues are happy that there are extra byes though, with Black contacting the playing group upon hearing the news. 

“I’ve already written to the boys, (playing group) about the byes and explained that there is a split round in there,” Black said.

“It will definitely suit our group.”

A move to all games being played on a Saturday was swiftly voted against too, but it doesn’t mean Tumut won’t play a majority of their games on a Saturday either. 

“The Saturday game motion got voted out pretty quickly,” Black said. 

“The major reason why is because of minor league, a lot of the clubs, especially Wagga clubs, were against it because they are fighting against other codes and they don’t want to give up Saturdays.

“I have put it to the board for more Saturday games for Tumut, and now we have to negotiate the rest with other clubs.”

In other news, the under 16s and 18s age groups will remain the same, whist a leaguetag and reserve grade competition will continue to complement the Group 9 first grade competition. 

The Group 9 nines competition has also been pencilled in for March 20, allowing three weeks break before the season commences on April 10/11. 

If Junee does play, and the competition remains 18 rounds, the first round of finals will kick off on September 4, with the grand final to be held on September 26. 

Ongoing Group 9 Chair, Peter McDermott, said that a home and away competition was the best result for a majority of teams in Group 9. 

“A home and away comp makes it even for everyone,” McDermott said. 

“That was my preferred option and that was the board’s preferred option, but we said we would leave it to a vote, and I am glad common sense prevailed.”

Gundagai and Tumut were advocating for a shorter competition, but according to McDermott, there was stiff opposition against the proposal. He believed that the introduction of bye rounds meant that all teams could now give players a break during the season.

“It was pretty much a unanimous decision to play home and away,” McDermott said. 

“The general consensus was that this year’s shorter competition worked for a lot of players and that they were over-taxed the year before, so we did take byes into account when making this decision.”

With the departure of the Cootamundra Bulldogs to the George Tooke Shield, McDermott said an 18-round competition allowed for plenty of rest and maximum participation.

“A good by-product from Coota being unable to play, which is really sad, was that we could have a shortened competition that was home and away that fitted in with everyone,” McDermott said.  

Regardless of the competition length, and the impact of an extended home and away competition, the Tumut Blues, along with other Group 9 teams, will now have to prepare for a long and physical competition, that will surely test the depth of all nine clubs involved. 

Cootamundra to withdraw from Group 9

In what was the worst kept secret in the Group 9 competition, the Cootamundra Bulldogs have officially withdrawn from the 2021 season and will likely take their place in the George Tooke Shield.

Group 9 Chair, Peter McDermott, said it was sad to see the Bulldogs leaving, before highlighting that their return would always be welcome.

“They have applied for the George Tooke Shield and they are 99% guaranteed of playing in that competition, they are waiting on the sign off, but it’s basically a done deal,” McDermott said. 

“It’s sad, but the door is always open for them to return.”

McDermott didn’t begrudge Cootamundra for wanting to play rugby league in a weaker competition, suggesting that with some juniors coming through, accompanied by growing industry in the region, the club could very well return. 

“To be honest, and in my personal opinion, if that is needed to help them survive, then good on them,” McDermott said. 

“If some juniors get through in the next couple of years, and the abattoirs open, they may get some players and their plan is to return, so we can only hope they do.”

The withdrawal of Cootamundra could be compounded by Junee leaving in the near future, especially if the club can’t appoint a coach and recruit extra players in the coming months. 

“They will play but who knows what that will look like,” McDermott said.

“They haven’t got a coach and they are frantically looking for one; their numbers are a bit down and they are struggling but they are trying to recruit players.”

According to McDermott, an influx of workers to the Junee abattoirs could be a blessing for the struggling club. 

“With the Junee abattoirs about to get 50 islanders on visas, Junee are hoping these blokes will come and play footy,” McDermott said.

“These people are coming here and need to live here and can’t play anywhere else, and if they can get 20 blokes playing, it doesn’t matter how good they are; they just need bums on seats.”

Junee will hope to field a first and reserve grade team, as numbers in their under 16s and leaguetag squads are strong. 

“There are plenty of leaguetag girls, and their under 16s is a strong team, so I hope for the club’s sake, they can get the numbers in their senior men’s teams.”