Takahiwai Rugby League Club is alleging the Otangarei Knights premier rugby league team "tactically" defaulted their preliminary semifinal on Saturday.
In a statement released by Takahiwai club chairperson Shane Hool to the club's sponsors on Friday after Otangarei's decision was made earlier that day, it said Hool believed the Knights had tactically defaulted the game between the top two qualifiers from Northland's premier rugby league competition.
Otangarei Knights captain Daley Johnson has refuted Hool's claim of a tactical default and said the decision was made due to an excess of injured players.
Rugby League Northland general manager Phil Marsh said it was very disappointing to see the game defaulted, but understood Otangarei's reasons behind the decision.
With the default, the Takahiwai Warriors qualified for the competition's grand final on August 3 at the Northland Events Centre. The Knights still have a chance of making the final despite the default, as they finished second after the regular season which means they will play the Northern Wairoa Bulls on Saturday to decide the other finalist.
In his statement, Hool pointed out that come the final, Takahiwai's premier team will not have played a game for five weeks due to two byes and another default. He said it was a "sad indication of the state of rugby league in the North" and expressed the disappointment felt by his players, coaching staff and committee.
Hool ended the statement by suggesting Takahiwai may play in Auckland next year but said the club needed to, "look at all the ramifications of that decision in conjunction with our players, coaching staff, supporters and sponsor partners, when the emotion has been removed from the situation".
Speaking with the Northern Advocate yesterday, Hool said the default was very frustrating and he felt teams shouldn't be so ready to use it as an option.
"I think all the teams are struggling but I think defaulting is sometimes the easy way out," he said.
"I just know for our club, we try and make sure we have a reasonable player base for when you have injuries ... you've just got to be ready for it."
Regarding his comments about leaving the competition, Hool said it would be good to play in a better league but he accepted the comment was probably said in the heat of the moment.
"It would be nice to [play in Auckland] but realistically, I don't think as a club we could sustain it and if it we did go, I see the competition up here dying."
Otangarei Knights captain Daley Johnson said his side only had eight fit players in a squad of about 18, with the difference carrying injuries. With only eight players turning up to training on Thursday, Johnson said between himself, the team, coaches and club members, they chose to default the game.
Johnson strongly refuted the idea they used defaulting as a tactic and said it was an unfortunate yet unavoidable decision as they would have played with either less numbers or a full team which contained injured players.
"Defaulting was the last thing that we wanted to do as a club because anyone that knows us, knows that we play at 100 per cent but there was just nothing we could do about this one," he said.
"Takahiwai know that when we play them, we bring our best game and if we'd have played, it would have been a big blowout so the best thing for [Takahiwai] and for us was to default rather than have a stupid scoreline."
Johnson said his team had been ravaged by injuries all season but he knew if they could make it past the Bulls on Saturday, there would be plenty of drive to play well against Takahiwai, the team they beat in last year's grand final.
"We've read all [of Takahiwai's] posts so we are very well motivated. We hope to get through this week and hopefully see them in the grand final and do to them what we did last year."
According to the Rugby League Northland (RLN) website, this was the sixth default of the season. All teams had defaulted at least once apart from Takahiwai. Of the six defaults, four were against Takahiwai.
RLN general manager Phil Marsh, who has been involved in rugby league for about 50 years, said he had never heard of a team defaulting at the semifinal stages before.
Marsh said a successful competition wouldn't have any defaults and felt Takahiwai leaving would be deadly for rugby league in the area.
"There shouldn't be any defaults but it is the way of the world at the moment in our day and age, employment comes first, not like back in the day when the club was everything," Marsh said.
"If [Takahiwai] were to leave, it would probably kill the competition, the competition would die."
With clubs struggling for players, Marsh said he understood why it was hard for under-strength teams to take heavy losses against an in-form Takahiwai but also knew it was unfair on Takahiwai who had the done the work to attract players to their club.
Currently, the competition's rules and format are decided by clubs who meet before the season starts. Marsh felt an independent committee should be made which would deal with any issues facing the competition.
Otangarei Knights coach Des Nordstrand could not be contacted before deadline.