Carterton [red jerseys] and Masterton Red Star – two of the bottom four in premier club rugby this season. PHOTO/FILE
Is it time for six teams in our premier club rugby competition?
As pointed out by one of the premier club coaches, there just aren’t the players around of good enough quality to play at premier level.
He cited the predicament of Masterton Red Star, who are winless after seven matches and have conceded 480 points. This was a clear indicator of the lack of depth in the top division.
His own team, although reasonably well-placed in the championship, have also struggled for numbers from time to time throughout the early part of the season.
This coach’s opinion is to reduce the top division to six teams and have a meaningful premier two competition of six teams, and a more social lower division.
The senior reserve competition has a lopsided look to it, with the three or four leading teams posting some large scores while the also-rans have massive minus points differentials.
The views of the coach are also shared by several administrators around the province, admittedly from some of the strong clubs.
However, I believe their ideas require some serious consideration.
Given that each premier team probably needs from 25 to 30 players to account for injury, illness, and unavailability through the season, that equates to between 200 and 240 players with the ability to play at the highest club level. Can any club boast of having that? I doubt it very much.
Reduce that to six teams and that becomes 150 to 180 players – a significant difference – and hopefully resulting in a higher standard of play.
Then add in automatic promotion-relegation and create a ruthless competition.
So, how about this for an idea?
Six teams in the premier division who play three full rounds of matches plus semifinals and a grand final. That is one more game than the eight-team format.
Based on the competition as of now, the six teams would be Eketahuna, Gladstone, Greytown, Martinborough, Marist and Carterton.
East Coast and Masterton Red Star would drop down into a premier two division, along with the top four clubs/teams from the senior reserves.
These could be Tuhirangi, Puketoi, Pioneer and maybe Featherston or one of the better-performing second teams from a premier division club.
Like the premier division, the teams would play three full rounds and semifinals and a final.
The winner of the final would gain automatic promotion to the top division for the following season.
Another suggestion that has been bandied about is for the six teams to play two rounds [10 games] before the top four play a round robin and final to determine the champions.
The bottom two would be joined by the two leading premier two teams. The first two teams after the round robin would be in the top division for the following season.
My preference is for the first option because I like the ruthless nature of relegation. The second option would, in most cases, favour teams who have had the tougher preparation against premier one teams.
Would going to six teams be death of some clubs? Not necessarily.
Clubs such as Puketoi and Tuhirangi, and Masterton Red Star, before their elevation to the premiers in 2018, have comfortably survived at senior reserve.
Pioneer is going through a rebuilding phase and have reportedly sufficient numbers for two teams. Going back even further Gladstone, Marist and East Coast have spent periods in lower grades.
Now for the burning question, what would be the prospects of getting such a proposal getting approved?
Given that the Council of Clubs controls and makes all decisions around club rugby … not very high.
Why? Because the council delegates are appointed by their clubs to look after their respective club interests.
That set-up alone is worthy of debate at a later date.
Maybe it’s time for the Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union board to wrest back some of the control of club rugby so that the game not only flourishes at local level with the strongest possible competition but ultimately also benefits the Heartland team.