THE Western Rams’ chances of winning a Country Rugby League Regional Championship have substantially increased following a revamp of the competition’s structure.
The tournament has undergone a dramatic reformatting to promote simplicity within the fixtures and a higher standard of football.
In 2013 group teams were eligible to compete in Tier 2 of the competition, while regional teams such as the Rams were restricted to the top tier.
In 2014, the CRL Regional Championships will be restricted to regional teams.
This year’s tournament will again be played as a knockout, with two tiers.
After returning to the top tier last year for the first time since 2009, the Rams will compete in Tier 2 of the competition this season against Northern Rivers, Northern Region, Riverina, Greater Southern and North Coast.
Tier 1 will be contested by perennial powerhouses Newcastle, Central Coast, Canberra and 2013 champions Illawarra.
“This is by far the best concept we’ve had in my time,” CRL president Jock Colley said.
“We always try and tinker with it to ensure we have the most level structure. This way, I think the playing field is much more level.”
The Rams play off against Northern Region at Singleton on May 31 for a place in the semi-finals. Riverina play Northern Rivers in the other round game while Greater Southern and North Coast automatically qualify for the semi-finals on June 14 on the Central Coast.
The NSW Country teams are then selected after the grand finals, played a week later, in Tamworth.
Groups 10, 11, and the Castlereagh League will play off in Western’s inter-region competition before a Rams team is selected to contest the championships.
In 2013, all three Rams teams - under 16s, 18s and seniors - were beaten in their first games of the Tier 2 competition, and Colley said the new format would ensure strength across regional and group teams.
“There is still the inter-rivalry within the groups in the selection phases, and then we have what I think will be a much higher standard of football at the championships,” he said.
Group 10 president Linore Zamparini is also impressed with the format. He said despite the loss of 2013 Group 10 and Rams halfback Scott Rosser, he expected his group to dominate Western selection.
“Rosser will leave a huge hole, but I think we’ve got the players to fill the void,” Zamparini said.
“Last year the guys who were picked for the Rams were ineligible for Group 10 selection, so this year we won’t lose as many club players during the championships. It’s a much better format.”