Whilst other NSW country rugby league competitions have decided to pull the pin on the COVID-19 affected 2020 season, the Christie and Hood Castlereagh League will be kicking off their competition on July 18.
A Castlereagh League meeting on Sunday 21 June in Gilgandra endorsed a competition which will involve the six clubs who have committed to play this year.
Those clubs are the Binnaway Bombshells, Dunedoo Swans, Baradine Magpies, Coonamble Bears, Cobar Roosters and Gilgandra Panthers.
At this point the Magpies are not expected to field a first grade side but have committed to both Leaguetag and Under 18s.
The competition will be played over ten rounds with each team playing each other twice, followed by a weekend of semi finals on 26 and 27 September with the grand final to be played on 10 October.
Secretary of the Castlereagh Cup competition Bryson Luff says the Christie and Hood Castlereagh League is one of a handful of competitions that will be played in 2020 in country NSW and shows the commitment of the clubs and their players to their town, their club and their supporters.
“It’s definitely a good thing, especially when other competitions aren’t running,” said Bears’ President Paul Wheelhouse.
“Everyone’s pretty positive about it.”
Club Secretary Joe Bellgardt says that the season will have it’s challenges, including the requirement to comply with strict conditions to reduce any risk associated with COVID-19.
“Our paperwork was all approved last week by NSW Rugby League and the state government,” Mr Bellgardt said.
“There’ll be no body contact at training, players are asked to come dressed to play to reduce contact in dressing rooms and they’ll only train in groups of ten.”
Each club has to appoint a COVID-19 officer and players will need to sign a register when attending games and training.
Mr Bellgardt doesn’t expect that the requirements will reduce interest in the game and 1st Grade coach Paul Cleary is also confident about filling the 25-man squad.
“We had about 18 on the books pre-COVID so we’ll see who is still committed,” he said.
“I’m confident I’ll have a strong contingent.”
A rule agreed to at Sunday’s meeting allows each team a maximum of three players from areas with no competition to join their squad, but all are conscious of the need to back locally-based talent.
“We’ll stick with the guys who were there pre-season and the locals but we have got the luxury of being able to add players if we’re short,” Mr Cleary said.
“We’ll start training on Wednesday 1st July so we’ll have four weeks’ training before our first game.”
Other Bears coaches are Samantha Turnbull and Damien Lee for the Leaguetag and Jason (Sparra) Dewson for the Under 18s.
The Bears Leaguetag fielded a full squad when Coonamble hosted the Rugby League Knockout on 14 March, and Mr Dewson’s team began training on Friday 19 June with at least a dozen players.
With restrictions easing and bigger crowds possible as the season progresses, Bears Treasurer Steven Butler says the Club is confident of riding out the season financially.
“We’re back to normal but anyone who enters the grounds will need to provide their details at the front gate.
We’re very fortunate that our sponsors, including our major sponsors Coonamble Bowling Club who were hit hard by COVID, have stuck with us.
Local businesses have had a hard enough time with the drought, let alone COVID, so the Club has agreed to carry over their sponsorship into next year.
This year’s coaches will also get first offer next year.”
Coonamble Shire Council staff were out in force on Monday morning 22 June and are expected to keep the fields and facilities in top shape.
“The Coonamble Sportsground is looking good,” Mr Bellgardt said. “We got really good comments at the Knockout.”