There's been quite a bit of talk about what seems to be an excessive number of 'imports' in the side and why our region, a union stronghold, should need them.
I called somebody 'in-the-know' and was told that the major concern is the drain of our best young players to Sydney and that the purpose of all the imports was to make sure that the side was competitive so that, in the longer term, it would be an appealing club for the talented locals to want to hang around and play for.
My 'source' expressed some misgivings as to the overall soundness of the strategy.
Further enquiry, though, revealed that there was no other option; that having all the imports was one of the conditions for Newcastle to be allowed to play in the competition.
It turns out the Hunter Rugby Union Board stipulated that in order for the Wildfires to enter the Shute they had to recruit at least 15 players from outside the region.
The reasoning given was that it was to prevent player-drain from the local competition.
So, the upshot would appear to be that the powers-that-be consider a Newcastle side in the competition will be good for the game, as long as there aren't many Newcastle players playing in it because we have such a strong local comp that nobody wants to disrupt.
And at the same time they need this side to be successful so that, at some time in the future, the local players will want to play for it rather than going to Sydney?
Look, in some ways good on Union for at least attempting to avoid a repeat of what happened with Newcastle rugby league and the Knights, but there's so many holes in all this I wouldn't even know where to start.
It's an absurdity. Surely there's a better way of going about it.
TWO HORSE RACE
The NRL is quite rapidly boiling down to a two horse race for me... to the bottom.
With the Bulldogs (who I've deserted) and the Tigers (who I've decided to support) scuffling about on the very bottom of the ladder with the likes of Manly (small mercies) it seems my switch in allegiance is extremely unlikely to be rewarded with anything resembling glory.
Accordingly (and sensibly) I've lowered my sights.
As long as we (the mighty Tigers) finish third from the bottom, above the aforementioned two, I'll consider the season a success.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE KNIGHTS?
The question I get, with this switch, is 'why don't you support the Knights?'
The thing is, I sort of do.
I am a foundation member of the club.
I'd imagine I'm like a lot of long-term rugby league supporters in that, when the Knights first entered the competition back in 1988, we now had two teams - our new local one (because you've got to support your local side) and whichever Sydney club we'd been supporting for years and didn't really give up on.
A clash between the two made for an uneasy afternoon.
It was easier to support the Knights back then too, with the side made up predominantly of locals.
But then, look, I loved country rugby league. The Newcastle competition was once considered the second strongest in the world, behind Sydney but ahead of Britain. Newcastle beat England at Newcastle! They beat 'the' St George side!
The competition is in tatters and 'football in the bush' a thing of the past.
It's not the Knights' fault, I know - the whole thing was more or less inevitable and the situation is the same in the likes of Illawarra and Canberra - but they haven't done much to help.
There could have been such opportunity in cooperation between local leagues and the Knights in both match staging possibilities and player channelling.
But instead nobody cared - the degree of separation between the two is such that there is just nothing left for country rugby league.
So the Knights have become, for me, just another Sydney club.
There's certainly no abundance of country players playing for them and so, despite my history, I feel no real affinity. Hence:
Go the Tigers!
Oh! Having typed all that I just looked at this weekend's draw: Bulldogs v. Broncos; Knights v. Tigers!
So, the team I have just abandoned (and so need to lose at all costs) is in for a fairly easy time of it against a floundering Brisbane; and the in-form Knights, who I've just been sort of bagging, are to take on my struggling Wests Tigers.
This doesn't look too good... If I had time I'd start this thing again...
- The Newcastle Wildfires will finalise preparations for the Shute Shield with a trial against Canberra outfit Norths University at Ernie Calland Field on Saturday. First grade kicks off at 4.30pm. They open the Shute Shield away to Sydney University on April 10.
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