EASTS are confident of meeting the criteria to return to an 11-team Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union Premier competition next season after an uneasy truce was officially struck between the warring parties yesterday, ending a 3-year battle.
The Mayfield-based club was axed from the Premier division in December 2008 when the NHRU, using a points-based criteria system, cut the competition to 10 sides.
Easts have fought to return to the top division, launching proceedings in the Supreme Court in June last year which resulted in court-appointed mediation this year.
The NHRU released a statement last night saying in part that it was ‘‘pleased to announce that the NHRU and Easts Rugby Club have successfully resolved their dispute through mediation which provides a pathway for Easts to qualify for eligibility for Premier Rugby in season 2013.’’
Like all Premier clubs, Easts must satisfy criteria for admission into the leading division but club secretary Richard Warry was ‘‘confident we’ll be back playing in 2013.’’
However, events surrounding the announcement yesterday showed there was a way to go in improving relations between the parties.
When contacted by the Herald yesterday about the announcement, Warry said: ‘‘I haven’t seen the press release because they wrote one, we didn’t agree with it, so we gave it back to them with our bit in it and I haven’t see it since then.’’
After having the release read to him over the phone, Warry continued.
‘‘It’s supposed to be a joint press release and they haven’t put any of our stuff in it.
‘‘They’ve written out a few lines, you’d think they would do a bit more than that after four years.’’
Asked if the club could put the bad blood behind them and work with the NHRU next year, Warry said: ‘‘We’ll, we have to.
‘‘We’ll come back bigger and better than what we were. ‘‘We recognised some problems in the club but we went out and addressed them and we’re confident we’ll come back a stronger club.’’
Warry later sent the Herald Easts’ own press release, which was approved by NHRU general manager Fenton Coull.
In it, Easts ‘‘acknowledge the NHRU for their participation and co-operation in the mediation process which allows our club the opportunity to return to Premier Rugby for season 2013 and beyond.’’
It also said ‘‘Easts look forward to working in partnership with the NHRU in supporting the growth of Newcastle and the Hunter as a competitive rugby playing region.’’
Confidentiality issues meant neither party could discuss details of the mediation, but Coull was able to confirm the Premier division would return to 11 teams if Easts satisfied the criteria.
The court-appointed mediation began in March this year. Coull said a process of agreement had played out over recent months.
Easts, who have six junior teams, have not fielded senior sides since their axing, despite an invitation each year from the NHRU for them to enter the second- and third-tier competitions.
Warry said many players had joined second-division side, the Newcastle Griffins, who play at Easts home ground of Dangar Park.