The Country Rugby League has confirmed reports from earlier this week, announcing a major change to its Senior Men’s Country Championships from 2017.
The Championships will feature an expanded under 23s competition to replace the current format from 2017.
Confirmed at the CRL annual general meeting on Friday afternoon, the move has been made to align more closely with the Australian Rugby League Commission’s (ARLC) Pathways model and structures.
CRL CEO Terry Quinn believes the new format will provide greater opportunities for regional players to progress through the Rugby League pathways to higher honours.
“Whilst the decision to restructure the Senior Men’s Country Championships was difficult, we believe the new format will provide a greater opportunity for regional players to progress through the Rugby League pathways into the Intrust Super Premiership and NRL,” Quinn said.
“The 19-23-year-old age bracket is our peak participation range for senior football and traditionally players outside of this age range have a lesser chance of progressing through the pathways unless they’re already playing, or have played, in higher levels of competition. “
“By restructuring the format to under-23’s we are giving more players in our peak participation range the opportunity to advance their Rugby League careers.”
Whilst the NRL’s new pathway models include state-based under 20s competitions, the decision to increase the Senior Men’s Country Championships to under 23’s was made to allow for a greater number of players who don’t make the under-20’s to still have the opportunity to play a higher level of football and progress through the pathways.
It is also hoped that the under 23s format will allow late maturing players a pathway to higher honours.
The new competition structure will see ten teams competing across two pools (North and South) in a knockout format, with the Northern and Southern winners facing off in the final to decide who is named Country Champions.