Recent financial cutbacks has seen the axe fall on the highly contested Australian Rugby Shield (ARS) for the 2009 season, which former NSW Country Cockatoos captain Paul Elliott describes as “a load of garbage”.
The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) announced the suspension of the competition earlier this week and added its return would depend on the economic conditions of 2010.
In a statement released by the ARU CEO John O’Neill said the board was quite clear on the concept of “suspension” as it is hoped that the competition, or a variation of the format, could be reinstated in 2010.
“This reinstatement is not definitely confirmed at this point, and will depend upon the economic conditions facing us in 2010, however, the board was keen to stress that it would like to be able to reinstate the competition, or a variation thereof, at that time, or as soon as circumstances allow,” O’Neill said.
The ARS is a national tournament in which teams from the Northern Territory, NSW Country, Queensland Country, South Australia and Victoria compete.
The NSW Country Cockatoos have been the most successful team, having won the tournament on four occasions since its inception in 2000.
Elliott took on both captaincy and vice-captaincy roles for the Cockatoos in both 2006 and 2007 and said the suspension of the competition this year was “disappointing”.
“A lot of players aim towards playing for the Cockatoos and winning the shield,” Elliott said.
“Some even use the competition as a pathway through to Super 14s.
“To cite financial reasons as the excuse is a load of garbage, most people would take pay cuts, there has to be some give and take.”
Central West Rugby Union chief executive officer Peter Veenstra said the competition suspension was a “huge kick in the guts”.
“This will pose a problem in how we deliver a program for the Cockatoos,” he said.
“The board will be grappling with that at the board meeting on January 31 in Newcastle.
“NSW Country will also meet with the board of Newcastle at that time.
“The same thing will happen when the (NSW Country) championships are on in Dubbo, the board will meet with the Central West board.”
“There will be a program developed (for the Cockatoos). We’re keen to play Queensland Country. That’s always a good exercise. From memory we’ve got a game which will be a curtain-raiser for one of the Super 14 games.
“The Cockatoos won’t be left high and dry. Just what the program will be, where we’re going and how we’ll do it remains to be seen.”
NSWCRU executive officer Terry Woodward said the suspension of the ARS was a real body blow to “grassroots rugby”, as the tournament was something players aspired to participate in, as they saw it as a way of putting themselves on the “rugby stage”.