Masterton Red Star players celebrating their win in last year’s senior reserve final against Tuhirangi. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
It was clear after hearing the respective views of the Tuhirangi and Puketoi rugby clubs that the Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Football Union has some serious thinking to do.
The two top teams in the senior reserve competition are both unsure whether they would like to earn promotion to the premier grade, and that is a worrying sign.
Ideally, the premier grade should be seen as the pinnacle of the sport in the region, and you want teams to be striving to get to that level.
But it is clear both clubs have legitimate reasons for thinking staying in the reserve grade for the foreseeable future may be their best option.
Tuhirangi player-coach Tim Roberts pointed to what has transpired for Masterton Red Star in this season’s Tui Cup competition as a prime example of why they may not be ready to make the step up.
And he has a point.
Red Star were the dominant team in the reserve grade last year, but lost to East Coast in the promotion-relegation match before being called up to the premier grade this year when Pioneer pulled out.
By then they had already lost some of their key players to other clubs, and they have battled to stay competitive this season and are yet to win a match.
Roberts said he could only see Tuhirangi entering the premier grade if it was opened up to 10 or 12 teams, rather than the current eight-team format.
But the gap between the top four premier teams and the bottom four is so pronounced that bringing more teams in would arguably lead to more problems than benefits.
Gladstone, Carterton, Greytown and Martinborough are clearly a level above the other teams in the premier grade, although Marist have been clinging to their play-off hopes by a loose thread.
If anything, the premier division needs less teams to remain a competitive competition.
Wairarapa has plenty of elite talent in its rugby ranks, but it is largely spread across only four teams.
Reducing the number of teams would undoubtedly lead to closer matches and a more even competition for the most part, but those decisions cannot be made lightly.
East Coast and Eketahuna, for example, have struggled to keep pace with the top teams this season, but the clubs bring a real sense of pride to their local communities and if they were to disappear from the premier grade, who knows what would happen to their teams at the lower levels of the game.
Spreading the talent evenly across all eight premier teams would be the best result for everyone, but there is simply no way to do that without choosing which clubs elite players will represent.
It is unclear what needs to be done to make the 2019 Tui Cup competition more than a four-horse race, but it is clear some things may need to change.