Country Rugby League name new-look under-16 and under-18 competitions after Andrew Johns and Laurie Daley

Johns and Daley
Johns and Daley

The NRL is fighting back against the decline of bush football with the announcement of two new junior age NSW country competitions.

The Country Rugby League will this season introduce the under-16s Andrew Johns Cup and under-18s Laurie Daley Cup - named after two of the state's greatest players - aimed at reviving the game in regional areas.

Eight of the 11 teams involved have aligned with NRL clubs, including the Newcastle Knights, and it's hoped that will produce better talent and keep young players in the game longer.

"I don't think it's about saving rugby league, there's great interest in rugby league all over," Cessnock-raised, Knights-legend and NRL immortal Johns said on Tuesday.

"But it's just that challenge of keeping young kids playing at that age of 15, 16, 17, 18 where other things become more important to them.

"We all know there can be distractions at that age but if we can keep them playing rugby league, especially in something like this.

"If you're representing your area, for a young kid of 16, 17, that can be a huge bonus and something to give him a lot of confidence. Hopefully it keeps those kids playing."

Bush clubs and leagues have reported an alarming drop off in player numbers in senior age competition and the NRL has long grappled with how to keep the game alive in regional areas.

St George Illawarra, the Penrith Panthers, the Wests Tigers and the Canberra Raiders have all entered into partnerships with teams. It gives clubs a direct link into the revamped seven-week competition, kicking off this weekend and virtually taking over from the previous NSW Country Championships, featuring 550 of the state's best youngsters.

"This provides a pathway for those youngsters in the country," Daley said.

"Knowing that they don't have to leave home is massive. I know myself when I left home at 16, I was homesick for the first six to 12 months.

"At times you wanted to throw it in. I was one of the lucky ones. But there are plenty of others who will.

"But if they don't go on and be professional players, they've got two years of learning about themselves and learning about what it takes, learning good habits, which can only be good for them and other people in their communities."

Newcastle, now under the Knights banner, are away to Northern Rivers on Saturday.