The power base in Wanganui Rugby Football Union may be shifting further again this season as club development officer Paul Kenny is delaying a finalised draw until mid-March to give several clubs added time to scourge up the necessary numbers.
Having been caught out in previous seasons when clubs committed to playing in either the Premier or Senior competitions, or both, but then lost a full squad of players, Kenny said the deadline for registration has been extended to March 13.
And at this stage, the format will do away with the trialled three division championships concept of 2019.
Trying to minimise the number of mismatches across the two grades from previous seasons, last season WRFU introduced the three-division split for the second round of matches.
Relegated from Premier after Round 1, Ngamatapouri picked themselves up to win the new six-team Division 2 – besting fellow relegated Premier club Pirates in the final, while out-lasting the Top 4 clubs promoted up from Senior.
Taihape pulled off the upset in Division 1 – coming from fourth place to winning the President's Rosebowl for their first top grade championship since the pre-amalgamation Huia club were victorious in the early 1980s.
After surprisingly missing out on Division 2, having won seven Senior titles in the past decade, Hunterville duly went on to claim the Division 3 crown, in a grade that didn't have playoffs.
At time of writing, Kenny said they are looking at a seven-team Premier grade and 12 teams in Senior for 2020, which means they can match up the two draws to finish on the same finals day – running two grades and reintroducing quarterfinals in Senior.
"As much as the guys enjoyed the [three divisions] competition, the general consensus was to go back to the two rounds in Premier."
It was considered to play three full rounds in Premier and then have just the Top 2 sides play a championship final, but feedback from the clubs is they would prefer to keep a Top 4 with semifinals.
Obituary: Peter Bailey, Wanganui's halfback from Bulls, passes away
Rugby: Kaierau win historic game with Samoa College Old Pupils Association in Apia.
In changes that have been confirmed, the struggling Ratana club will be moving out of Premier and becoming Senior team for this season, under new coach Leon Mason.
After managing to stay up in Division 1 last year by virtue of thrilling one-point victories over both Pirates and Ngamatapouri at the Ratana Pa, the proud club, who won their last title in 2011, really struggled against the other five teams, taking some very heavy losses.
A couple of defaults for lack of numbers also hurt.
However, it is understood the move down to Senior has allowed Mason to bring together a full squad, who can hopefully make an impression in the second tier as the club looks to rebuild.
Currently sitting on the bubble is Pirates, now five years removed from their last championship, while now officially becoming a one-team club after their Senior team defaulted the second round of 2019.
First year coach Danny Tamahana, who took over from Phillip 'Red' Morris, has departed to join up with Ngamatapouri, as Pirates have struggled with the departure of Morris and the young talent he was able to organise from the Pacific.
Kenny's wish is the Spriggens Park-based club will be able to remain in the top grade.
"Pirates are definitely one team, and they're trying their hardest to make it a Premier side.
"That's my hope, that's everyone's hope, to make it work."
Looking at the likely title contenders in Premier, 2019's beaten finalists Border are likely to be strong again, having retained their base of players, while after making their first semifinal since 2012 last season, while retaining their coaching regime and adding to their numbers, Kaierau could be poised to go another step.
Ruapehu are always a dangerous proposition to face, although they are also currently trying to confirm whether they will have a Senior team underneath the Premier squad, as attempts to bring back a second XV last year were unsuccessful.
As Weekes Cup winners for both grades combined, Taihape as an overall club remain in a very good position depth-wise, as their Senior team will also be leading contenders for their title.
Meanwhile, after winning the Gordon Thompson Memorial Best & Fairest award last year, Utiku would also like to put themselves in the Senior title equation alongside their Memorial Park neighbours, as well as Hunterville from just down the road.
After introducing a second team for Division 3 last year, Counties RFC will join the Marist club in fielding two sides for the Senior season, as the Counties Brothers team will remain in existence.
Senior last used the Top 8-quarterfinal format in 2017, when Marton RFC would go on to win the title.
Plans this year would see the four teams which miss out on the Top 8 playing a three-match round robin for the consolation Wilson Cup.
The 2020 WRFU Senior club competition could also see the possible implementation of Game On rules in 2020.
An initiative of NZ Rugby across domestic club and youth levels, Game On will offer flexible match options to maintain parity and lessen the likelihood of defaults.
By pre-match agreement, teams could play a shorter length of as little as 40 minutes, have rolling substitutions, golden oldies scrums and player numbers as low as 10-a-side.
Full competition points would still apply to the outcome. These rules will not be used in Premier rugby.
The WRFU's Annual General Meeting was also held this week with the union posting a modest profit, on top of adding new office staff members and seeing some movement on the board. Whanganui Chronicle will have further details tomorrow.