Rugby league: Gunnedah Bulldogs stalwart Aaron Donnelly praises move to overhaul first grade

SMART MOVE: Bulldogs centre Aaron Donnelly has given the overhauled first-grade comp a big tick.
SMART MOVE: Bulldogs centre Aaron Donnelly has given the overhauled first-grade comp a big tick.

Veteran Gunnedah centre Aaron Donnelly says the revamped premier grade has injected the competition with a sorely missed excitement factor.

He just wishes it happened sooner. 

I reckon it will be good,” he said. “It’s about time it happened. I reckon it should have happened three or four years ago.

Aaron Donnelly

He added: “Second Division was strong every year and First Division was struggling. If you run a comp, First Division should be the priority. I’m glad they finally did it.”

While Donnelly anticipates some new first-grade clubs may struggle early in the season, he believes that they will improve.

In fact, he expects the competition to be close and scoreline blowouts not to be norm.

He said: “I think Boggabri will go really well and so will Kootingal. I think most of them [the new first-grade sides] will do really well, to be honest … They’ll be a few games where teams get big score on them, but they will improve throughout the year.”

BIG PLUS: Former Bulldogs captain-coach Trent Hilton is back after missing 2016 with a knee injury.

BIG PLUS: Former Bulldogs captain-coach Trent Hilton is back after missing 2016 with a knee injury.

At the end of last season Group 4 responded to severe criticism of first grade by scrapping the successful Second Division competition and promoting four Second Division clubs – Boggabri, Kootingal-Moonbi, Werris Creek and Bendemeer – to first grade to make it a nine-team comp.

 Donnelly is relishing the chance to play in a competition with more “variety” and the opportunity to play Saturday games.

He added: “We’ve [Gunnedah] got a lot of mates who play for Boggabri. “It will good fun playing against a few mates.”

Gunnedah resume pre-season training on Friday after the Christmas break. Donnelly is excited about the return of three Bulldogs – former captain-coach Trent Hilton and fellow forwards Jordy Ford and Jason Smith.