While many bush footy competitions around the state are experiencing turbulence, the excitement and positivity within the Castlereagh League continues to grow.
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In a sign of how highly-regarded the small town competition is, its committee has been asked to make a presentation at the upcoming NSW Rugby League Community Conference.
The conference this year has a focus on player retention and the success of the Castlereagh League in recent years has not gone unnoticed.
As well as growing club numbers, a shortened reserve grade competition has been added to the calendar in the past two years and it has resulted in a host of players either returning to the game or lacing up the boots for the first time.
"Because we've created so much interest in teams wanting to join us, I think that's the bottom line," Castlereagh League secretary Bryson Luff said.
At the conference, Luff and the committee will speak about where the competition has come from to where is is now in the hope of providing ideas and help for others around the state.
In the last decade the Cobar Roosters and Narromine Jets have moved to the Castlereagh League from Group 11 while Binnaway and Baradine have also returned.
There have been difficult times for clubs like Trangie and Warren but when the 2024 season kicks off the number of clubs taking part if expected to be 10.
The return of foundation club Coolah is near certain to be rubber stamped at the Castlereagh AGM on Sunday, November 26.
Coolah weren't alone in showing interest in a comeback next year, either.
Teams from Tottenham and Gulargambone also expressed interest while rumours of a revival at Warren have also swirled during the off-season.
At one brief point early in 2023 there was even an indication a Dubbo Waratahs club could be formed to take part in the competition.
Luff said he and everyone involved in the competition is proud of what has been achieved in recent years.
"I certainly am," Luff said.
"The fact that clubs are wanting to join the competition is great. I think it's an indication we're doing something right."
Luff said the biggest positive for the Castlereagh League is clubs competing can be "viable and sustainable".
"You see Blayneys and Cowras withdrawing from Group 10 and the Peter McDonald Premiership and you have to think it's because they can't afford to compete," he said, with the two proud clubs likely to move to the Woodbridge Cup next year.
"That was the same for Narromine when they left Group 11. They couldn't compete.
"Out here, players play for the love of the game and to represent their town."
There was no better example of that this year than the Gulgong Terriers.
Playing in a competition where only the coach is allowed to be paid, the Gulgong side which featured five sets of brothers completed an unbeaten season.
On top of winning the premiership in their 100th anniversary season, the Terriers were also awarded the NSWRL Clayton Cup as the best performing senior side in the state this year.
"They're a family club and there's a lot of clubs like that too," Luff added.
"Clubs need some money because there's always expenses but I think we're doing something right and I hope we continue to do so. I'm very keen for that to happen."
The 2024 season is expected to remain at 14 rounds.
The likely return of Coolah could mean the competition is put into into two pools of five. Teams in the same pool would play each other twice in that system and four other crossover games would complete the regular season.
As pleasing as things currently are in the competition, Luff said the low number of Youth League teams and the struggle to attract referees and officials are likely to be issue raised at the AGM.
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