It is unlikely Maheno Rugby Club will produce a premier side for next season’s Oamaru Liquorland Citizens Shield due to a lack of players.
Maheno finished this year’s round-robin campaign with three wins and 12 losses to finish in fifth place and outside of the playoffs.
Club president James Symes said it is doubtful that the green and blacks will field a premier side with only eight players remaining from last season’s squad.
“We’re going to advertise for both but I think realistically it’s going to be a senior B side,” he said.
Symes said older players retiring and a lack of younger players coming through the ranks has led to the shortage.
“We’ve got eight players coming back from last year. We’re losing quite a few overseas and some of our local players are only here for a year and they’re away again,” he said.
“There’s a good handful of us older ones who are chucking it in. We’ve probably been treading water for the last few years.”
Symes believes more should be done to keep school leavers involved in local rugby, to strengthen the clubs.
“I think with young guys, coming from schoolboy rugby to premier, the good ones get identified and ushered in to clubs, but for the rest of them, there is nowhere for them to go, and the step up to premier is too much for them,” he said.
“I think there needs to be more done to ensure those school leavers stay in rugby.”
Despite the unlikelihood of Maheno being able to produce a premier side, Symes is confident supporters will still turn out on match days.
“For Maheno, we’ve got to do whatever is best for our club and if that means going in a B competition, then that’s what we’ve got to do,” he said.
“Our supporters wouldn’t care what grade we played in. For us, it’s either close the doors or go senior B. Hopefully we can get a prem team, but if not, that’s what we’ll do.”
North Otago Rugby Union CEO Colin Jackson said Maheno’s shortage of premier standard players is due to the stark reality of a lack of local talent.
“The NORFU and our Club Rugby Council have been fully informed by Maheno as to
their current lack of playing numbers,” he said.
“Unfortunately, this is the reality of not having enough premier quality players in our region to adequately fill six teams.”
Jackson said the union will continue to work with Maheno with the hope of fielding a premier grade side in 2015.
“Both club and union will continue to work closely and every possibility will be explored in the hope of getting a premier Maheno team out on the park in 2015,” he said.
“If Maheno don’t field a premier team then it is hoped they will have enough players for a President’s Grade team which could facilitate a meaningful local competition.”
Jackson said the competition will continue with five teams, should Maheno withdraw from the Citizens Shield and is confident the club’s future is safe.
“Premier rugby in North Otago would continue with five teams and a bye which is or has been the case in other New Zealand provincial unions,” he said.
“Whatever the outcome, Maheno Rugby Club will survive and prosper, that I’m sure of.”
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: JAMES FORD – Maheno club president James Symes.