Newcastle’s senior representative team may re-emerge as early as this season following a change in affiliation to NSW Rugby League confirmed during the week.
After a year on the sidelines the Rebels open squad look set to tackle a combined Sydney-based side in a one-off fixture before selected players progress to a state-of-origin style game with an equivalent Queensland opponent.
Newcastle Rugby League chief executive officer Matt Harris said he was unsure if the concept would kick-off in 2018 but was confident it would start by next year at the latest following a meeting with NSWRL officials on Wednesday.
“One thing that was talked about earlier and will definitely happen, if not this year in 2019, is a rep side from Newcastle Rugby League will play against a rep side from [NSWRL second-tier competition] the Ron Massey Cup,” Harris said.
“Then they’ll pick a combined rep side that will play against a similar squad from the Queensland area. They [NSWRL] had a similar format a number of years ago and they’ll re-introduce that.”
As expected NSWRL on Tuesday endorsed Newcastle RL’s request for affiliation in 2018.
Newcastle RL have traditionally been affiliated with Country Rugby League. That relationship now seems destined to end.
“Changes like that, when you have history, are always difficult and controversial,” Harris said about breaking away from Country RL and being endorsed by NSWRL.
“But when we’re in a position to completely demonstrate the benefits it will be quite clear why it was done”.
Part of the fallout includes no longer participating at the annual NSW Country Championships, which last year was capped at under 23s after Newcastle won the final open competition in 2016.
Harris said he was pleased the shift in representative focus would allow Newcastle’s senior players to line up for the Rebels again, but suggested under-19 and women’s participation were also on the agenda.
“We would like to have that [Ron Massey Cup and Queensland fixtures] potentially at an under 19s level as well and work out how we involve female participation at a rep level,” Harris said.
“They’re conversations we’ve been having for a number of months as well while we’ve been going through this process., but we expect to have a definite answer on this year probably in the next couple of weeks.”
Phil Williams (senior men) and Marc Glanville (ladies league tag) are the appointed Newcastle representative coaches for 2018.
Meanwhile, the second State Cup knockout appears set to go ahead with 2017 grand finalists Macquarie and Wests while this year’s local Indigenous All Stars carnival has been slated for the first weekend in March.
The 2018 season opens on April 21.
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