Northland rugby bosses are considering a step back in time as they try to secure the future of the sport in the province.
Ongoing concerns with the status of club rugby, in particular the future of the Northland-wide premier competition, has forced the Northland Rugby Union (NRU) to review all levels of club rugby in the province.
Now they are poised to ditch the Northland-wide competition, start the club season later in the year, head back to zonal club competitions and are even contemplating reviving Harding Shield ``sub-union'' fixtures. But at present these are only proposals being considered after initial discussions with club representatives. The most important work is to come, according to NRU operations manager Greg Shipton.
It is all part of a massive revamp of the Northland club scene that the NRU hopes will breathe new life into the clubs and boost player registrations, particularly at teenage level.
"The general consensus is that Northland-wide is over. The Northland-wide was provided as a platform with the aim of getting players picked for Northland. But these days the Northland team is picked before the club season even kicks off," Shipton said.
The Northland-wide championship has been the premier club title in Northland for the past 10 years, the concept originally put together at the behest of clubs. But massive changes to the representative scene have changed the rugby landscape, including how representative players are groomed for provincial selection.
NRU chief executive Rob Malone said the aim was to have a club structure that would serve the union for many years, with particular emphasis on fostering under-18 and maybe under-20 grade teams.
The brief was to look at competition structures for 2008 and onwards, aiming to provide competition for everyone.
Under the new proposals, club rugby would be played in zones to try to limit time-consuming and expensive travel schedules, and the Harding Shield developed as a possible grooming ground for provincial players.
It has been more than 12 years since the Harding Shield has been contested in the sub-union format.
The proposals were discussed by NRU board members Geoff Crawford, Sharon Morgan and Murray Dunn, NRU chief executive Rob Malone and NRU operations manager Greg Shipton last night. But it remains to be seen if the new club competition formats will find favour with players, referees and club administrators who are all now being asked for feedback.
NRU operations manager Greg Shipton said initial feedback from clubs had indicated strong support for zonal competitions. But he said the final format would not be decided until after another round of consultation with clubs.
"The clubs are quite strong in not wanting the travel, that has been the biggest bugbear for most of the clubs who just don't want to travel every week out of their district to play club rugby," Shipton said.
The Northland-wide club championship has come under fire in the last two years as teams struggled to cope with arduous travel schedules, some clubs having to endure two-hour bus trips each weekend to compete. But even in the second and third division competitions travel has been a major hurdle.
This year two teams, Moerewa and Awanui, were given compensation to enter the competition even though they did not have reserve grade sides as required by the competition rules.
The situation became farcical when Awanui then withdrew altogether, citing the exhausting travel schedule as the main reason.
* Moves under consideration
At a glance:
? Club rugby in Northland not start until the first week of April (not the first week in March)
? The Northland-wide championship be canned for south zone (Whangarei south to Wellsford including Mid Northern and Dargaville) and north zone (Kawakawa to Kaitaia) club competitions.
? All club rugby competitions, including junior competitions, to be administered by the NRU instead of by individual sub-union committees.
? Reinstate Harding Shield sub-union (inter district) competitions between `selected' teams.
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