A new-look Newcastle outfit will fly the flag at this year’s NSW Country Championships following off-season changes in affiliation.
For the first time players from second-division Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League (NHRL) clubs likes Shortland, Cardiff, Dora Creek, Fingal Bay and Belmont South will make-up under-23 and ladies league tag teams for the annual representative carnival.
A selection trial for the final squad, known as CRL Newcastle, has been slated for next Wednesday at Dudley Oval following two weekends of pre-season Challenge Cup matches.
The 2018 campaign opens at home on May 12 against the winner of North Coast and Central Coast.
“From our perspective it’s a great opportunity,” NHRL administrator Dave Wild said. “We were interested in starting up a rep team in any case, but this has furthered that.”
NHRL has 38 men’s teams entered to play across A to D grades this year while 15 ladies league tag teams are signed up for competition from next month.
Traditionally players from Newcastle Rugby League’s eight, top-tier district clubs have contested the NSW Country Championships.
Newcastle RL recently changed affiliation from Country Rugby League (CRL) to NSW Rugby League for 2018 and have since announced representative fixtures for the revamped senior Rebels against, and with, a combined Sydney-based Ron Massey Cup side.
This switch in governing bodies mean Newcastle RL have foregone their spot at the tournament. They will be replaced by NHRL, who remain affiliated with CRL.
“With Newcastle Rugby League resigning their affiliation with CRL, it provides us with an opportunity to expand our representative pathways to a wider range of players,” CRL operations manager Bert Lowrie said.
“There are currently over 450 players who qualify for the CRL Newcastle men’s under-23 and ladies league tag sides who will now be given an opportunity to play representative football.”
Meanwhile, premiership-winning coach Adam Bettridge has re-signed with the Macquarie Scorpions until the end of 2020.
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