POWERHOUSE Wanderers winger Billy Coffey believes the invitation for the Hunter Wildfires to compete in the Shute Shield is an opportunity too good to refuse and could establish a pathway for the region's best young talent to chase their dreams.
Hunter and Penrith are in line to join the 11 existing Sydney clubs in a modified 13-club, 13-round competition running from July 25 until the end of October.
Progressing the game is part of the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union's strategic plan but president Bill Clifton isaid such a move would require the support of clubs and be cost neutral.
Sydney Rugby Union would cover costs for the Wildfires to travel to Sydney and for teams to journey up the freeway.
Clifton said a decision is likely to hinge on whether the NHRU's premier competition proceeds.
NHRU club presidents expressed concerns over the cost of shortened season with no crowds at a hook-up last week. There was also resistance over the Wildfires proposal.
"I think it will be one or the other," Clifton said. "We probably wouldn't proceed with the Shute Shield if we were going to have a premier competition in 2020. If there wasn't a local competition, I think we would get the support of the local clubs, that's for sure."
The NHRU have until June 12 to submit their Shute Shield participation agreement, which includes a business plan and player list for two senior grades and colts, and is being put together by a sub committee.
"All that work might be for nothing," Clifton said. "Anything we do will be for this year only."
The NHRU is still awaiting clarity on a potential start date for a local competition and will have another meeting with club presidents on May 28.
"If we can't get any certainty [about a start date] before the next meeting, it makes it nearly impossible for clubs to prepare and run a meaningful competition," Clifton said.
Coffey has helped prepare a production line of talented young rugby players ahead of a move to Sydney.
It was a path Coffey, who owns Pinpoint Athlete gym, took himself as an 18 year-old when he played a season of colts at Norths.
Now, 31, he has been arguably the best winger in the NHRU competition for the best part of a decade.
"With my profession, every year I send about five to ten kids to Sydney," he said."It is a tough road for them because they are away from home and family. I get phone calls every couple of weeks to get their head space right."
Coffey, who has played in the US, has longed to test himself at the next level and said most of the rep squad felt the same way.
"We are all really keen, but I don't think anyone is asking the players," he said. "Poor Billy Clifton got inundated with 28 texts messages last week. The players wanted to let him know they were keen.
"I'm at a stage now, where physically I could still do it and mentally I would be right up for it. We don't mind if we get flogged in the fist year. We are never going to know what the competition is like until we get a taste of it."
Coffey has expressed his desire to Wanderers coach Dan Beckett.
"Dan has a potentially premiership winning team this year but he understands that this is a chance for the players," Coffey said. "All the players want to play against the best. No-one really wants to win the COVID Cup (NHRU premiership) for 2020. It is a bit of a joke if we are all honest about it."
Most of the Sydney clubs have resumed training in groups of 10 this week, but Coffey was confident the Wildfires could get up to speed quickly.
"I train professional athletes for a living," he said. "I see what Andrew Tuala (NSW Waratahs) and Nic White (Wallabies) are like physically. We are up to it, but we are just not used to playing at that top level.
"Bubba (Wildfires coach Scott Coleman) has reached out to me to help get the boys ready physically. All you have to be is fit. You make mistakes when you are unfit. I released a program today to help the boys get fit, if we get the go ahead. I know what needs to be done to get these guys to be at that level."