Bad luck continues to follow Taranaki rugby and any hopes for re-entry into the premiership division have been dashed.
New Zealand Rugby announced on Tuesday it would not include the promotion-relegation format this year after it released the draw for the rest of the season.
The decision comes after Taranaki leads the championship with an unbeaten record from five matches – with three wins against premiership teams. In fact, the side leads the entire competition with 22 points. Their final crossover match is on Saturday afternoon, away against Waikato.
Taranaki has languished in the championship division since they were relegated after the 2018 season. Its home, Yarrow Stadium, lost its two grandstands amid earthquake concerns.
Without adequate seating, the union lost hundreds of thousands of dollars before a restructure.
Taranaki Rugby (TRFU) chief executive Laurence Corlett said the union is "bitterly disappointed" with the decision.
"It's a kick in the guts for the fans, players and staff of the TRFU who have put up with some bad luck the last couple of years," he said.
NZR consulted with all 14 provincial unions, which were asked to give feedback regarding the format.
"TRFU supported the continuation of promotion-relegation in 2021."
Corlett's comments come after coach Neil Barnes questioned the decision on Tuesday.
The decision has also affected the team's fans.
Many took to social media to express their disappointment.
Jono Watkins said the season is now a waste of time.
"Finally, we get back on track. Such a rip-off. We are clearly quality this year," he said.
"Very disappointing after the Naki worked so hard to get where they are," Ashley Bare said.
Stuart Hancock recommended Taranaki pull out for the rest of the season.
"The sponsors will back you and it will save you some money next year. Let's face it, it means nothing to continue," he wrote.
In an email statement, NZR general manager of community rugby Steve Lancaster said the decision was unavoidable.
He cited it was about ensuring the competition outcomes were as fair as possible.
He said teams could still be affected by Covid restrictions before the end of the competition.
Remaining Taranaki schedule:
Saturday, October 16 v Waikato, Hamilton or Tauranga, 2.05pm
Saturday, October 23 v Manawatu, Inglewood, 2.05pm
Sunday, November 7 v Southland, Inglewood, 2.05pm
Semifinals: Weekend of November 12
Finals: Weekend of November 19