RUGBY LEAGUE: Sweeping changes to the Country Championships has placed a greater focus on burgeoning rugby league talent on the North Coast. But it has left one association head exasperated.

This week Country Rugby League announced plans to scrap the current model and replace it with an Under-23s competition.

It means the chance to represent the Northern Rivers or North Coast is effectively finished for anyone over the age of 23.

Newly inducted NRRRL Robin Harley has lampooned the changes, suggesting the Northern Rivers side, encompassing teams from the Clarence River to the Queensland border, will struggle to be competitive.

"We'll definitely struggle to put a quality side together in Under 23s," he said.

CRL chief executive officer Terry Quinn believes the new format will provide greater opportunities for regional players to progress through the rugby league pathways to higher honours.

The new format will align more closely with the Australian Rugby League Commission's Pathways model and structures.

"While the decision to restructure the Country Championships was difficult, we believe the new format will provide a greater opportunity for regional players to progress into the Intrust Super Cup and NRL," Quinn said.

"By restructuring the format to under-23s we are giving more players in our peak participation range the opportunity to advance their rugby league careers."

But Harley disagreed with the CRL boss, declaring players seeking opportunities in the game had usually done so at a young age.

"It will be a waste of time because the NRL identification programs will have the players they want locked down well before they're 23," Harley said.

"If you haven't made it by that stage (to the NRL) then it really isn't going to happen.

"(Former Grafton Ghost) Anthony Don is probably the only one that springs to mind as a late bloomer and he made his NRL debut at 25."  

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