Western Rams coach Darren Jackson admits part of him was disappointed to see the Country Rugby League (CRL) Senior Championships changed to a purely under-23s tournament.
But despite that, he is excited about the prospect of coaching the region’s most exciting young players on the big stage next season.
The CRL confirmed the changes after its annual general meeting on Friday, with chief executive officer Terry Quinn saying “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.”
For Jackson, who started coaching the Rams senior representative side in late 2015, there was some slight frustration as he felt the Western squad was just getting ready to make a real impact in the Country Championships.
“We’ve been in a bit of a rebuilding phase and now we’ve basically got to go from scratch and start again,” he said.
“But I can see the merit in it. For a lot of players if you haven’t cracked it by 23 you probably won’t get to so I can see the merit there. There’s good and bad things.”
Despite the mixed feelings, Jackson confirmed he is keen to stay on as coach and lead the Western Rams under-23s side next season in the inaugural Championships.
Western has made a serious impact in junior representative age groups in recent years.
Both the under-16s and under-18s advanced all the way through to their respective Championships finals last season, while a under-21s squad was also formed for the first time in 2016.
That team, which featured Westside’s Tom Clow as the only Dubbo-based representative, performed well in a number of exhibition games and many of the players from that squad are expected to feature in the new-look 23s team.
“In hindsight that 21s was a great program to start,” Jackson said.
“The played a handful of exhibition games and that was a great thing and that will stand them in good stead going forward.
“There’s a couple of good kids there (in the senior Rams side) already, someone like Sammy Dwyer from Parkes springs to mind, I’m fairly certain he’ll fit into the under-23s category so there will still be a handful from the original team.”
The new competition will begin next year. The 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 grand final to decide who is named Country Champions.