Former NSW Country boss suggests radical changes to Country Championship tournament

Former NSW Country Eagles general manager James Grant has proposed radical changes be made to the NSW Country rugby pathway and the annual NSW Country Championship tournament.

Grant, who played for both Central West and Illawarra before representing NSW and Australia, believes the standard of Country Week has declined dramatically in recent years as the overall cost of the tournament has risen.

“We’ve got nine zones spending close to $50,000 each to send teams to Country Week and half the sides are filled with players that are not committed to this format of rugby pathway.” Grant told Rugby News.

“I know there is a lot of history and tradition associated with Country Week, but we’re spending a huge amount of money each year on one tournament when that money could be far better spent reviving the game in regional areas.”

Grant believes Country Week should be replaced by a restructured provincial tournament, with each province to host its own matches to reduce travel costs.

“For example, Central West, Central North and Western Plains would form Western Province and those three sides could meet in Coonabarabran to play against one another,” Grant said.

“That way we keep the tradition of the zones alive, but we reduce the cost of the tournament significantly. From there, a Western Zone team would be picked to play against the other provinces.”

Under Grant’s plan, representative sides from Northern Province (Far North Coast, Mid North Coast, New England), Eastern Province (Newcastle Hunter, Central coast), Southern Province (Illawarra, Far South Coast) and Western Province (Central West, Western Plains, Central North) would then play one another over a weekend to earn selection in the NSW Country team.

“This way the aspirational player still gets a chance to play against the best players in NSW Country and earn selection in the Cockatoos side and the quality of the competition will increase dramatically,” Grant added.

“The players that make their provincial side will have deserved their spot and we’ll still be able to select a high quality NSW Country side, without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Country Week.”

Grant has also suggested that the annual NSW Country v QLD Country fixture be played as a curtain raiser to the NSW Waratahs v QLD Reds Super Rugby match to help reignite the rivalry between the two states.

“Not only would that add to the event, but it would give our NSW and QLD Country players a chance to play a high quality match on a big stage.”

The 2018 NSW Country Championships will be played in Warren later this month.

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