NSW Rugby League has extended the invitation for any senior clubs, including those from Newcastle Rugby League, to enter the Hunter region's second-division competitions for 2020.
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Confirmed by NSWRL operations manager Bert Lowrie on Sunday, the Newcastle and Hunter Community Rugby League (NHCRL) would "welcome" additional open teams or all-age players on July 18 when matches are scheduled to get under way after the current coronavirus lockdown.
Lowrie said he wants to see "players on the park" post the COVID-19 crisis and it follows last week's announcement that Newcastle RL would not run any of its five grade competitions - firsts, reserves, opens, under-19s and women's league tag - if crowd restrictions remain in place.
With Newcastle RL, which last year had around 900 registered players across its nine clubs, potentially having the season off it means the next tier NHCRL becomes an option for those still wanting a game.
NHCRL, including the likes of Dora Creek Swampies, Dudley Magpies, East Maitland Griffins, Mallabula Panthers and Stroud Raiders, features multiple senior men's divisions, generally ranging from A to D grades, and last year had a combined 24 women's teams across league tag and tackle competitions.
Lowrie said he didn't anticipate any of the district's top teams to enter but felt there could be a window of opportunity for those playing in lower grades or women's sides.
"If Newcastle Rugby League doesn't go ahead this year and there are any 19s, open age or ladies league tag teams from the district clubs who want a game they are more than welcome to join Newcastle and Hunter Communtiy Rugby League," Lowrie told the Newcastle Herald on Sunday.
"We want to do everything we can to get players on the park. That's the way we see it."
Lowrie said combined teams, made up of players from more than one club, would also be considered.
Nominations are expected to be open for at least this month with gradings to follow.
NHCRL announced via social media over the weekend that training was set to start on July 2. The 10-round season kicks off July 18 and finishes on September 26.
A three-week finals series would then culminate in a decider on October 26, regardless of whether the region's cricket draws are delayed or resume as normal.
"With the hiatus in sport generally we are extremely excited to be able to put this together, and are hopeful it will be met with positivity," NCHRL posted on Facebook on Saturday.
NSWRL issued a media release around the same time.
"The most important thing is that we will be guided by the health regulations and the health and safety of all players, team staff, match officials, club officials and the public will be a priority," NSWRL Newcastle and Central Coast regional area manager Keith Onslow said.
"We, as NSWRL, accept that there may be some teams and clubs who may not be able to participate, but we will design competition models for those who want to play and can play in 2020.
"The Newcastle and Hunter competition being an amateur competition is in a good position, but obviously there still are costs involved in putting those teams on the field."
NSWRL also revealed that Newcastle, Maitland and Group 21 juniors are aiming to play at least nine rounds and a fortnight of finals later this year.
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