Rugby Union: Waratahs withdraw from Newcastle's premier competition due to lack of players

GOING: Waratahs inside centre Carl Manu takes on the Maitland defence last season. Picture: Stewart Hazell
GOING: Waratahs inside centre Carl Manu takes on the Maitland defence last season. Picture: Stewart Hazell

THE Waratahs, a famous club that has produced Wallaby greats Cyril Burke and John Hipwell, have withdrawn from the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union’s premier competition due to a lack of players.

President Greg Taylor made the gut-wrenching decision on Wednesday, bringing an end to a 77-year history as one of the region’s powerhouse clubs.

Premiers in 2013 and grand finalists in 2014, The Waratahs did not have enough players to field three teams – a requirement for Premier Rugby – this season. They will instead enter a side in the second division competition as well as a team in the social fourths and a women’s outfit.

“It is extremely disappointing for a lot of people who have been around the club for a long while, especially with the history and the tradition of The Waratahs,” Taylor said.

“It’s been a tough decision but the right decision considering the circumstances. 

“Our player numbers, particular our juniors, have been very poor. We started the pre-season in a strong position but then lost players for varying reasons.

“We weren’t confident that we could field three teams. We thought we could field two teams (second and third grades) but the eligibility for Premier Rugby is three teams.”

Premier Rugby will now consist of nine clubs. The Waratahs were to meet defending premiers Hamilton in round one on April 7. They have been replaced on the draw with a bye.

The addition of The Waratahs to divisional rugby takes the draw to 10 teams and eliminates a bye. Both competitions will have a five-team final series.

Taylor informed the players last Thursday of the dire situation and the likelihood of the club being unable to meet Premier Rugby requirements.

Anderson Medal winner Carl Manu and NSW Country fly-half Dane Sherratt have since departed and are likely to link with Maitland and Hamilton respectively. A host of other players had previously left to join Southern Beaches.

“The ones who wanted to pursue the highest level they can play have meandered off,” Taylor said. “That is understandable. Dane and Carl were on board until that point. They were concerned by the lack of players at training, so they weren’t oblivious to what was happening. Too much honesty can bite you a bit.”

Players who leave The Waratahs and join another NHRU club are classed as non-locals and worth three points under the player-points system. The top six teams from 2017 have a cap of 17 points. The three bottom-placed teams have an extra four points.

Formed in 1945, The Waratahs have produced eight Wallabies. However, in recent years they have faced a constant battle for player numbers, despite being competitive in the top grade.

​The Tahs were given dispensation by the NHRU last year when only able to supply first and second grade sides. Merewether fielded two teams in third grade.

However, that was on the condition that The Waratahs fielded three teams in 2018.

“We have supported Greg and The Waratahs as much as possible but we can’t accept a premier club without first grade,” NHRU president Bill Clifton said.

“We will continue to support Waratah as they rebuild. Hopefully they can come back into Premier Rugby, the same way Singleton were able to.”

The Tahs hope to re-enter Premier Rugby in 2020.

“While we cannot meet the criteria for teams in the premier competition in 2018, we will use the coming 12 months to implement strategies to Rebuild the Reds,” Taylor said. 

“We believe that playing divisional rugby in 2018 is the best pathway for our current grade players to enjoy their rugby while we rebuild our strength. 

“We really need to get our juniors up and firing. We had an under-7s team last year and are hoping to have two, maybe three teams, this season.

“We have attracted a women’s team and we have a social fourths, which is largely about re-engaging a lot of guys who have been connected with the club. The women have created a bit of excitement.

“We think we will be extremely competitive in divisional rugby this season and then it is a matter of rebuilding.”

Taylor said the plan to revive the club includes;

* investing in coaching and player education and strength,

* securing funding for new programs aimed at rebuilding the club,

* exploring avenues to attract new players,

* improving club culture, and 

* increasing junior participation.

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