Lower Clarence Magpies will only field the one senior side in reserve grade during the 2019 NRRRL season.
Lower Clarence Magpies will only field the one senior side in reserve grade during the 2019 NRRRL season. Belinda Martyn

Proud club pulls the pin on eve of season kick-off

RUGBY LEAGUE: Lower Clarence has pulled the pin on first grade this season as the club aims to rebuild ahead of 2020.

At an NRRRL general committee meeting on the eve of the season opener this weekend, delegates from all clubs voted to allow the Magpies to only field teams in reserve grade, ladies league tag and under-18s.

The club had approached the group two weeks ago after an internal player meeting suggested there was not enough confidence in the first grade ranks.

Magpies president John Elisaia said it was not an easy decision, but one the club had to make.

"We are getting enough blokes to field two squads, and personally I would prefer to keep the first grade squad going, but the concerns raised were about the quality of the team," he said.

"With the standard of the NRRRL this season, I just don't think we have the calibre of players to be competitive.

"We have a core group of first graders including Grant Brown and Rob Howard but around them it is only fringe first graders. If we get done by 60 or 70 points three times in the first three weeks those blokes on the fringes will drop off immediately and we would have been left in the lurch."

The Magpies only have 24 senior players officially registered with the NRRRL, but it is understood there are several others who had awaited the group's decision before they made the plunge.

It will be a tough blow for the Magpies, who are only three years on from sitting out the season entirely in 2016.

"For us it is a matter of survival this year," Elisaia said. "If we don't field a side then we open the door for other clubs to come through and take our spot.

"We want to use this time to rebuild towards a strong first grade squad for 2020."

While in the past the NRRRL have been cautious to allow clubs to sit out of the top grade, group secretary Tanya Booth said it was a decision made in the best interests of the Lower Clarence club.

Booth admitted there had been plenty of discussions between delegates on the issue before a majority decision was reached.

"It was not an easy decision, you don't want to see a club fold but once teams begin forfeiting each week it comes at a loss to other clubs around the group," she said.

"(Lower Clarence) has a very open and honest committee, and this gives them a chance to galvanise their ranks over the next year."

The move out of first grade will means any club drawn to play Lower Clarence will earn a top grade bye and two competition points.

The Magpies could now struggle to retain their dedicated first grade stars with elected captain Grant Brown unsure of where he stands now.

"I came back to Lower last season (from South Grafton) because I wanted to see my club play in first grade," he said. "I really wanted to set the standard and encourage other blokes to show that commitment.

"I want to be home at Lower and winning the grand final again. Some people think it is ambitious, but with the quality we have around the Lower Clarence I don't think it is."

The Magpies will kick start the NRRRL season at home on Sunday as they welcome Todd Carney and a rejuvenated Byron Bay Red Devils.

The day will kick off with ladies league tag at midday followed by under-18s and reserve grade.

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