NSW Country Eagles and Sydney Stars to merge in 2016 NRC

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The NSW Country Eagles and the Sydney Stars will merge and play as the Country Eagles in the National Rugby Championships for the next five seasons.

The joint venture will see NSW Country, Sydney University, Randwick and Eastern Suburbs join forces to play in Australia’s third tier competition.

“We have been told by the ARU that the merger will be granted a license this year,” newly appointed General Manager Peter Playford told Rugby News.

“I can’t talk about the specifics, but I can talk about the stakeholders. There will be a board of stakeholders which will be Easts, Randwick, Uni and NSW Country,” the former Stars coach added.

All nine NRC sides were initially granted a two year competition license in 2014, which expired at the end of the 2015 season.

“The general consensus was that NSW couldn’t support four NRC teams and we saw that with some of the lop sided matches in the opening two years,” Playford said.

“When that went around the table, the Stars were advised to look for a merger and we looked at how many country players were already playing at Sydney Uni – Tom Robertson, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, David Hickey, Angus Roberts etc – we thought our most logical partner was NSW Country.”

Darren Coleman will coach the Eagles in 2016, with one home match to be played in Sydney and the remainder in regional NSW.

“The game at Uni will be about giving country people living in Sydney an opportunity to support their side.”

“Our other home games will be played in the bush and I’m also talking to the Rams about playing one of their home matches in the country and hopefully Canberra as well so we are trying to get out into country areas as much as possible.”

While Playford admitted that there will be plenty of competition for spots in the Eagles squad, he said his staff won’t just be looking at Sydney Uni, Randwick and Easts players.

“We’ll be heading up to the Country Championships in Armidale in early May with the view of gaining access to players that are playing in the bush. Look at Pauli Tuala, he was picked up from the Country Championships and played really well for the Eagles in the 2014 and 2015 NRC.”

Playford believes the competition is vital for both professional and grassroots rugby in Australia and has set some ambitious goals for the franchise both on and off the field.

“I want the players in this competition to be earning more than $30,000 each within two years so there is a lot to do off the field if that is to happen,” he said.

“I also want country players to see this as a genuine pathway. Whether that is moving to play with Easts, Randwick or Uni or with the Country Eagles. There are enough good country players out there for us to win this competition.”

While some of the finer details are yet to be confirmed, Playford said that the side will likely be based at Sydney Uni’s new high performance centre at Camperdown. He also confirmed that indigenous artist and former Australia Schoolboy Cody Walker would design the Eagles jersey again in 2016.

“We will be adding a little star into the eye of the eagle, because the Sydney Stars did mean a lot to some of the players and the fans, so they will still be represented.”

“This competition should be all about progression, not regression, so we want to make sure we take the best out of the Stars and the best out of the Eagles and create a new entity under the Country Eagles name,” Playford added.