FOLLOWING a consensus NSW wasn't able to sustain four National Rugby Championship (NRC) sides, it's been officially confirmed the NSW Country Eagles and Sydney Stars will merge in a joint venture from 2016 onward.
The five-year deal will see NSW Country, Sydney University, Randwick and Eastern Suburbs - for the most part - combine to contest Australia's second-tier competition, where the new franchise will simply be known as the Country Eagles.
After each franchises' initial two-year competition licence expired after the 2015 competition the Stars were advised to seek a merger or fold, and new general manager Peter Playford said the logical choice was to join forces with NSW Country.
"We looked at how many country players were already playing at Sydney Uni, Tom Robertson, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, David Hickey, Angus Roberts etc, and thought our most logical partner was NSW Country," Playford, a former Stars coach, told independent publication Rugby News mid-week.
"The general consensus was that NSW couldn't support four NRC teams and we saw that with some of the lop sided matches in the opening two years.
"We have been told by the [Australian Rugby Union] that the merger will be granted a licence this year."
Darren Coleman, NSW Country's coach for the past two years, will mentor the new franchise, which will maintain its links to regional NSW by playing all but one of its home games in the bush.
That other game will be played at Sydney Uni.
"The game at Uni will be about giving country people living in Sydney an opportunity to support their side," Playford said.
"I'm also talking to the (Greater Sydney) Rams about playing one of their home matches in the country and hopefully Canberra (Vikings) as well so we are trying to get out into country areas as much as possible."
In promising news for players based in regional areas with aspirations of reaching the top level, Playford and his staff won't just be looking at Shute Shield players to turn out in 2016 - one of the largest initial fears.
"We'll be heading up to the (NSW) Country Championships in Armidale in early May with the view of gaining access to players that are playing in the bush," Playford enthused.
"I also want country players to see this as a genuine pathway. Whether that is moving to play with Easts, Randwick or Uni or with the Country Eagles. There are enough good country players out there for us to win this competition."
The 2016 NRC is expected to get under way in August.