FOR the first time since World War II, the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union (NHRU) will not play a premiership competition.
The board, after consultation with the clubs, made the decision on Friday not to proceed with premier or divisional rugby in 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An official announcement will be made next week, but in an email to clubs obtained by the Herald, NHRU president Bill Clifton cited the cost to clubs of playing without crowds and increased cleaning and hygiene requirements due to COVID-19 as the main factors behind the move.
"While restrictions are changing every day, the uncertainty means the Newcastle and Hunter rugby premiership season for 2020 won't be going ahead," the email said. "The welfare of our players, coaches and supporters is our number one priority and the COVID-19 pandemic still poses too great a risk for managing their health and safety.
"Unlike the national sporting codes, we are heavily on reliant on our game days to support and fund our clubs. Without our game day revenue, it is difficult to see how we would be able to meet the increased cleaning and hygiene requirements due to COVID-19."
The email said the NHRU were committed to providing clubs and players "opportunities to engage in rugby".
"We are investigating some great ideas like training drills for schools, virtual competitions and even a sprint season," it said.
The Herald understands gala days and an eight-week competition are among options being explored.
The suspension of the local competition is likely to open the way the Newcastle Wildfires representative side to compete in the Sydney Shute Shield this season. The Shute Shield is flagged to start in July and Newcastle would be required to fill teams in the top two grades and colts (under-20s).
"I think it will be one or the other," Clifton said last week. "We probably wouldn't proceed with the Shute Shield if we were going to have a premier competition in 2020."
The NHRU has until June 12 to submit its Shute Shield participation agreement, which includes a business plan and player list.
Northern NSW Football announced on Thursday that it will hold a hold a 13-round regular season with a five-team finals series.
Newcastle Rugby League have yet to make a decision about the 2020 season, however, chief executive officer Matt Harris has previously said that without crowds no competition would go ahead.
AFL Hunter Central Coast are working towards abbreviated Black Diamond Cup campaigns from July.
Men's and women's hockey associations are currently collaborating along with Newcastle International Hockey Centre about how to best shape likely premier league seasons later this year.
Netball NSW on Friday released an open letter to state premier Gladys Berejiklian asking for a clearer plan for community sport. Last month the Newcastle association floated a potential 10-round season from July 18 to September 19.