Newcastle will not have a chance to defend its country championship title after the Country Rugby League voted on Friday to scrap the senior competition in favour of an under-23 knockout.
CRL chief Terry Quinn said in a statement that the 10-team competition would kick off in 2017 to provide more opportunities for young players to progress to the NSW Cup and NRL.
“The 19- to 23-year-old age bracket is our peak participation range for senior football, and traditionally players outside of this age range have a lesser chance of progressing through the pathways unless they’re already playing, or have played, in higher levels of competition,” Quinn said.
The changes will end representative football for players over 23. Newcastle are reigning country champions after beating Illawarra 23-12 in the final in June.
Quinn said in the lead-up to Friday’s meeting that the new format would “even the competition out”.
“You won't have Newcastle or Illawarra dominate as they do at the moment,” he told the Mudgee Guardian.
The switch was designed to help “late-maturing” players who missed out on the NRL’s state-based under-20s competitions, which will replace the NYC in 2018.
“At the moment we’ve got guys 31, 32 years of age in the Country side and they’re not going to go anywhere in the game as far as getting back into NSW Cup or back to the NRL,” Quinn said.
“At 23, you’ve still got those aspirations to do that, and we believe it’ll be a much better competition.”