A mid-season competition bringing together the best teams from Group 10 and Group 11 without jeopardising the integrity of their respective premiership races.
That’s the vision of three-time Group 11 premiership-winning coach Tim Ryan, who put together a proposal for Western Rams powerbrokers about 18 months ago as the game looked at avenues to link the region’s two group competitions.
In the end, a post-season match pitting Group 10 and Group 11 premiers was decided on.
Ryan says he hasn’t heard back from the Rams board and his idea might be “just sitting stagnant now” but he says there’s plenty of upside to a concept that has the potential to generate more sponsors, bring back supporters and further strengthen the biggest region in Country Rugby League.
Under the proposal, the top four teams from the previous season would play each other essentially once a month in a ‘Challenge Cup round’ before a grand final is played in July.
“I think bringing those two groups together without combining them permanently will be a good thing,” Ryan said.
“It gives clubs a chance to play different teams and it might bring some people to the games that might not normally come too often.
“But as far as me pushing it … there’s not a great deal more I can do. I just tossed up the idea.”
It’s an extra four games of footy intertwined throughout the regular season, and it ends before Group 10 and Group 11 finals start – a key point, Ryan says.
The current Western Challenge, which had its first run in late September when Forbes knocked off Bathurst Panthers, is played two weeks after the completion of both Group 10 and Group 11 grand finals.
But the mastermind behind three premierships in six seasons while at the helm of Dubbo CYMS questioned whether the motivation is there to play another game a fortnight after winning a premiership.
“The pinnacle is winning your own comp at the end of the year,” he said, determined not to change that.
“I didn’t think it was ever going to work. I got asked a little while ago, and you’ve only got to look at the NRL reserve grade game on grand final day, one teams turns up and the other doesn’t.
“It ends up being a bit of a miss-match.”
Heading into next season, if the Challenge Cup was in play for 2019, Group 10 and Group 11 would both play their own competition rounds for two weeks before an opening Challenge Cup round that could potentially consist the following games: Dubbo CYMS versus Orange CYMS; Group 11 premiers Forbes hosting Group 10 champs Bathurst Panthers; Cowra tackling Parkes; while Orange Hawks could host the Wellington Cowboys.
Teams would play each other one weekend in April, May and June before the grand final in July, with the finals for Group 10 and Group 11 then kicking off in August.
It’s big game after big games after big game, and Ryan added there would be an identical concept run for the lower half of each competition played at the same time.
I just think the chance to play a couple more games, at places you don’t normally get to play … that region-wide exposure, it has to be a good thing.Challenge Cup mastermind Tim Ryan.
The only stumbling block is Group 10 has nine teams to Group 11’s eight.
Ryan wouldn’t go as far as to say change had to happen, but he believes new life needs to be breathed into rugby league in the region, in some shape or form.
“I wouldn’t say (change is) inevitable. In my opinion, it’s probably necessary to a degree but I don’t think it’s inevitable … I just don’t think people like change. It’s not embraced,” he added.
“(Footy’s) slowly going down hill. There’s other interests and I think to inject something like this in the mix will be good.
“Whether that’s the concept, or it’s something else, or we stay the same … I’m not sure. I can’t predict what will happen. Just depends on who wants to make the decisions.”
Ryan said the reaction to his proposal from rugby league-types close to him was positive.
“In principle I think people have liked it. But whether it’s gone in the too-hard basket or not, I’m not sure,” he said.
“I just think the chance to play a couple more games, at places you don’t normally get to play … that region-wide exposure, it has to be a good thing.
“And there’s challenge to try and win the two, which would be difficult to do.”
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