NEWCASTLE coach Scott Coleman hopes the clash against the Western Force at No.2 Sportsground next month is the first step towards a return to the Sydney Shute Shield competition or a Global Rapid Rugby franchise being based in the Hunter.
Coleman has overhauled the representative program, which includes marquee games against the Force, Australian Army, Warringah and Parramatta, and culminates with a tour to South America in September.
"We want to lift the standard in Newcastle so that in the near future we can provide a program where players don't have to go to Sydney to make it," Coleman said. "
"They will be able to move to the next level from here. Whether that is a professional outfit through Global Rapid Rugby (GRR) or a Newcastle team back in the Shute Shield, we want to lift the standard so we can accommodate that.
"There are five kids from Wanderers under-19s and a few from other clubs who have gone to Sydney this year. There were five from Hamilton last year. We are producing the players.
"The first one or two years we would have to do a bit of recruiting, but then you could set up the pathway to make it sustainable."
More than 60 players, including about 20 from the second-tier divisional competition, have attended open training sessions during the past three weeks. A squad of 30 will be named early next week.
The clash against the Force on February 29, which has been sanctioned by NSW Rugby and will use GRR rules, will launch the program.
A number of Sydney players will be drafted in for that match to ensure Newcastle are competitive.
"I have a commitment from Gordon, Warringah, Eastern Suburbs, Randwick and Parramatta to release players for the match," Coleman said. "I'm hoping to draft in 18 players, mainly around the tight five and other key positions. The remainder of the 30-man squad will come from Newcastle.
"For the Sydney players it is a chance to showcase their game in front of a professional organisation that are handing out contracts.
"For our young guys it is a chance to mix with and play against high quality footballers."
After the Force, Newcastle take on Illawarra in Wollongong (March 6) , Arizona State University and Warringah (March 14), Parramatta (March 21) and the Australian Army (May 13).