THE Junee Diesels' current plight is a prime example of why Group Nine should adopt a player points system to ensure smaller clubs can not only be competitive, but survive.
It's time some of the more affluent clubs gain some perspective and consider the health of the game in the Riverina in general, not just in their own backyard.
A player points system has been in place in the AFL Riverina competitions since the 2017 season. It's main aims are to ensure clubs don't run themselves into the ground by trying to compete with inflationary player payments, promote player loyalty and junior development and provide a more competitive on-field environment that encourages more volunteers to help out.
The Country Rugby League has been pushing for Group Nine to adopt a points system, which exists in most other groups, for some time.
It has failed to get off the ground in the past when it has been met with some resistance by the more successful clubs.
The Diesels will hold a state of play meeting on Sunday to discuss their plan moving forward after struggling for player numbers this year.
They haven't fielded 16s or 18s teams for the majority of the past few seasons, but have a strong crop of under-15s coming through.
Group Nine has a new board and CRL regional manager David Skinner says he will continue to push for the points system to be introduced to ensure competitive parity.
"This (Junee's situation) is just another example of why something like that might be a help," Skinner said.
"I will (continue to press its case), we don't give up easy. We've got a new board in Group Nine to hearing out all sorts of ideas, it's just about where the clubs sit on that.
"The old board wasn't in favour of it, but hopefully these are the stories that remind everyone how important it is to keep everyone in the competition.
"It's not much of a competition when you've only got three or four teams."
The AFL Riverina points system can take into account social and demographic factors in each area which may hinder some club's ability to produce or attract players compared to other clubs.
If a player has played 40 or more junior games they are worth just one point, providing incentive for teams to develop from within.
In places like Junee, where the population in the high teen age groups is thin on the ground, it is more difficult to do so.
Skinner attended school at Junee as a kid and has already noticed the change in demographic in the town.
"From when I went to Junee High School, there's only half as many kids going to school there now as there used to be," he said.
"A lot of them come into Wagga for school now and that has a pulling effect on those kids to do other things other than play football in their home town.
The other key factor which hurts bush footy teams is the loss of a sense of ownership and parochialism within the community.
Towns want to feel like it's THEIR team, locals representing the community. They'd much rather cheer on the bloke who fixes their car during the week, than plays five eighth on the weekend, then a recruit from outside paid more than the players who live there.
That can disillusion the players who live in the town that put just as much effort in, but aren't as well rewarded financially.
"As long as country rugby league's been going there's been this approach where you get a good captain-coach, two or three marquee players and that's a good model for a country club," Skinner said.
"But the trouble is it's hard to sustain that when you don't have enough juniors, then your marquee players blow out to five or six.
"The other issue is if some clubs are more financial than others, their shopping cart goes out to five or six marquee players and that's why you get an unbalance competition.
"That's why we really want to push that player points system and try and keep clubs strong within their own community, make it so the place where you grow up is where you want to play.
"One of the things I really like about the new board is they're open to ideas and they're transparent with those to clubs. At the end of the day it will be up to the clubs to decide."
That said, perhaps it's time to take the decision making process out of the club's hands, make the call that's best for the health of the game in the Riverina and tell them to suck it up.
Because at the end of the day, clubs will always have a vested interest in looking after number one first.
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