SEVEN-TIME first-grade premiership-winning Hamilton coach Scott Coleman believes the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union colts competition was not giving players the "right rugby experience" and said abandoning under-20s was the best option for now.
Only four clubs - Hamilton, Wanderers, Merewether and University - had sufficient numbers to field colts teams this season, despite the age restriction moving from under-19s to under-20s.
A four-team competition would have resulted in five rounds and colts teams largely playing away from the rest of the club.
The four clubs voted at a specially convened meeting on Tuesday to axe the competition for this season.
The under-18s competition, in which every Premier Rugby club bar University has a team, replaces colts in the 11.10am time slot.
Up until 2014, Premier Rugby clubs were required to field a colts team. Now third grade is compulsory.
As a result, colts teams have been on the decline.
The 2018 competition, which was won by Hamilton, had five teams. In 2017, there were six teams, including two from Merewether.
"We spoke with our colts and, although they won it last year, they didn't enjoy it," said Coleman, who oversees the Hamilton Junior Academy. "They played three rounds, there were three rounds of byes and the grand final wasn't on the same day as the rest of the club. They weren't getting the right rugby experience. A few of them filled in for grade and indicated they would rather play grade this year. They learned more playing grade and felt more a part of the club."
Merewether were the strongest in favour of retaining the under-20s competition and now fear players will be lost to the sport.
"Our rugby model is based on progression from juniors through to seniors," president Steve Reid said. "We were keen on it going back to under-20s because it creates a better development pathway. Now that has gone, they are expecting kids to make the jump from under-18s into grade. We firmly believe there are some issues with that. There are some kids who will make the transition but there are others who aren't ready for that yet. We have already had a couple indicate they will either go to another sport or not play anything."
Reid said the Greens were still trying to work through other possible solutions with the NHRU.
Newcastle have dominated at under-19 and under-20 level at the NSW Country Championships, despite the recent issues with the colts competition.
NHRU general manager Andy Fairfull said smaller clubs were using colts-aged players to fill third grade.
Last year, the NHRU attempted to combine with Central Coast for a joint-round which didn't work.
"We have tried a number of measures to revive the competition," Fairfull said. "This year we lifted the age to under-20s and held off to give clubs time to find players. It's certainly something we will address again as we look at the competition structure for next year."