The proposed merger between Central North and New England’s rugby bodies will not happen this year as planned after New England clubs rejected the proposed draw.
There was not enough time to set a new draw for the 2018 season, Central North Rugby Union president Tony Byrnes said.
However, Byrnes is hopeful the plan to have joint competitions will go ahead in 2019 after a new draw was proposed to clubs at the end of this season.
He said: “The joint venture hasn’t been abandoned. What’s happened is we just simply run out of time to be able to work up a draw that suited all the complexities and requirements of all the clubs.
“We’re dealing with 14 clubs, and three of those are university clubs. So it’s a bit of a challenge to work around all the special requirements and that sort of thing.”
Byrnes said it was decided on Wednesday to spend the coming year on trying to overcome the impasse, and introduce the merged entity in 2019. “Suspended but not forgotten,” he added.
He admitted that the process was not as “easy as we thought it would be”. “We’ve called a halt, I suppose, for this,” he said, “but we still will proceed with a joint-venture working group and we’ll continue to work on this throughout the season so that we go into the approach next time around better prepared, and look at better ways to be able to get an agreed draw.”
Byrnes said he was as “confident as I can be” that the merger would go ahead eventually, given that all the clubs backed the concept: “I’m as confident as I was when this all first started because I believe the commitment is still there across the board.”
In a related development, the NERU voted on Monday to accept the Tamworth Magpies’ application to become a member – thus ending the CNRU foundation club’s 59-year participation in the Central North zone.
Byrnes said the move was “disappointing” and the CNRU “wasn’t happy about it”. “But there’s nothing standing in the way, we can’t stand in the way, of what Tamworth Rugby Club would like to do,” he added.
Pirates president Stuart Prowse was not surprised to learn the merger had been put on hold, given the rejection of the draw. Central North clubs voted in favour of the draw.
He said: “I thought it was a long way to come back from that at this late stage … It’s pretty disappointing because it was so close. And I know most of the Central North clubs and most of the players were really looking forward to it, but I think it’s [the merger] inevitable.”
He added: “Maybe the breathing space of 12 months will give everyone the chance to sit down and nut out how they think it will work. It would have been good to get it up and running this year to give it a trial, but it’s not to be.”