NRRRL split competition gets support

BALLINA Seagulls Rugby League Club official Denis Meaney agrees with suggestions to split next season's Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition into two divisions, and it's a decision based on past experience.

Meaney, who was a Country Rugby League selector for 17 years, was involved with the Gunnedah club in Group 4 in western NSW when the CRL established its first 'super league' competition in the 1970s.

That competition involved teams from areas such as Moree, Tamworth, Warialda and Inverell.

Initially, the clubs embraced the concept, but the tyranny of distance soon took over and clubs refused to travel.

"The whole thing ended up a disaster," Meaney said. "The clubs in the middle embraced it, but eventually it turned out to be a financial disaster for all the clubs involved.

"The game suffered, and I don't think it's ever recovered."

Meaney was speaking after last week's NRRRL meeting in Ballina in which the clubs agreed to a concept to split the competition.

NRRRL president Robin Harley suggested the plan as a way of easing the financial and other burdens associated with the long distance some clubs have to travel - for example, a Tweed team travelling to Grafton or vice-versa.

Under the plan, the competition will be split into two divisions:

NORTHERN CONFERENCE: Ballina, Byron Bay, Mullumbimby, Tweed Coast Raiders, Cudgen Hornets, South Tweed, Murwillumbah. SOUTHERN CONFERENCE: Lismore Marist Brothers, Casino RSM, Kyogle, Evans Head, Grafton Rhinos, Grafton Ghosts, Lower Clarence Magpies. Three rounds will be played. In round one, all teams from the same conference will compete against each other. In round two, Northern Conference teams will play Southern Conference teams. Round three would revert to same-conference teams playing each other again.

The top three teams from each conference would then contest the finals series.

The concept still has to get the final approval of next month's NRRRL annual general meeting, and there is some doubt over the 2009 composition of the NRRRL, with South Tweed wanting to join the Gold Coast competition.

The NRRRL competition was formed in 2005 through the amalgamation of Group One (the Clarence-Richmond teams) and the Tweed-based Group 18, and it appears there are parallels between it and the CRL 'super league' western NSW competition of the 1970s which Meaney refers to.

He said there were disputes back then over distances in western NSW.

Now, in 2008 the Robin Harley plan has come about because of the same issue.

"There were disputes like there is now. Glen Innes, Armidale and Uralla areas didn't want to travel to Moree and wanted to play in a different Group," Meaney said.

One thing that the new competition might end is the traditional rivalry between Ballina Seagulls and Lismore Marist Brothers.

Matches between the two sides are always well-attended and are good financial boosts for whichever club hosts the games.

Meaney once again is well-placed to offer a comment on that. He coached Brothers to premiership success and Clayton Cup glory in 1987, and now is heavily involved in the Ballina Seagulls club.

"I see that as a problem because of this rivalry between the two clubs. Most people would like to see Ballina versus Brothers," he said.

"But you've got to draw the line somewhere. "If you put Brothers in the northern zone, it's lopsided.

And vice-versa if you put Ballina in the southern zone."

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