Promising future for Riverina rugby league

Tumut’s Zac Treglown fights his way to the try line during Tumut’s 28-all draw with Junee on Sunday.

Despite the constant chatter that rugby league is dying in the bush, Group 9 have shared data that suggests otherwise. 

There has been a good bounce back of player registrations after a Covid-19 impacted 2020 and there are also good signs with junior numbers coming through the ranks.

In the under 16s to 18s, numbers are the best they have been since 2017, with a big increase to over 300 players in 2021, while future numbers, most notably in the under 14s and 15s Group 9 Junior Rugby League age groups, don’t look too bad at all. 

In fact, of the current nine senior clubs, five of them including Albury, Brothers, Kangaroos, Southcity and Young, boast very good numbers, with 17 or more players registered in each age group. 

Junee and Tumut aren’t too far behind, with 29 and 31 players registered across both age groups respectively and most importantly, they have teams playing in both competitions.

The only two clubs struggling are Gundagai and Temora, with the Tigers in trouble with 14 under 14 players and only seven under 15s, while the Dragons have five under 14s and 13 under 15s. 

Group 9 Junior Rugby League President Bernie Delaney believed the issue with Gundagai and Temora’s dwindling numbers can be traced back to last year, where both clubs had the year off due to Covid-19.

“With Gundagai and Temora, they didn’t play last year and that is the biggest thing,” Delaney said. 

“I think you will find that they lost a few kids. Gundagai don’t have a 15s, and they have their kids playing in the 16s, and with Temora, the under 14s are playing in the 15s – it’s not the best for either club.”

Delaney was confident both clubs would bounce back though, and with the remaining seven clubs fielding teams and boasting good numbers, he explained that Group 9 would be the ultimate beneficiary. 

“There is a lot of positive talk and things are looking good,” Delaney said. 

“We will have to put a bit of polish on a few things, but the numbers are positive and I’m very happy with it. 

“Our focus is about keeping these young fellas in the game.”

Delaney believed having multiple development squads in both the under 14s and 15s in 2021 had helped boost interest in the sport. 

“We’ve got pretty good numbers. We have two under 15s and two under 14s development squads and there are 22 players or so in both of those squads,” Delaney said. 

“Clubs are well represented. The leading clubs have six players and it filters down from there.

“We asked clubs to nominate some players and they were honest with it, and it’s working out quite well.”

Delaney said having the extra development teams meant coaches could work on players who might not have made the one representative team if the Country Championships had been played, meaning these young players are kept interested and groomed for future teams.

“Because there is no Country Championships this year, we were able to pick those extra kids and it is a good thing and a great step towards the future,” Delaney said. 

“And having two development sides in each age group, there are a lot of kids getting a look – some who might have gone under the radar if we only had one team.”

The popular Group 9 administrator was adamant Group 9’s junior age groups were very strong and he looked forward to seeing many players filter into the senior ranks.

“The 14s and 15s are the strongest they have been for quite a few years,” Delaney said. 

“It’s so pleasing to see strong numbers going forward and hopefully we see that benefit senior footy.”