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  • Elks make welcome return to top grade

    2018 - 07.05


    GLEN Innes will return to the first grade fray when the New England competition kicks off this weekend.

    Albies and Armidale contest a lineout during the recent Armidale Knockout. The annual tournament served as a good warm-up for the start of the competition proper this weekend. Photo: Chris Bath 140315CBC07.

    The Elks elevation to the top grade coincides with the 40th anniversary of the club’s reformation and will see five teams fighting it out for the Sawers Shield with Guyra dropping back to second grade.

    Glen back in first grade is something the zone had been pushing for and working towards for a few years and will offset the loss of the Ghosts from first grade.

    “This is welcome news to rugby followers in the New England as it considerably strengthens this year’s competition,” president David Clifton said.

    It will ensure a five-team first grade competition.

    “The stronger the first grade competition the more able we are to attract players to the comp,” Clifton said.

    “Only three other teams to play against is not a great incentive to attract players.”

    Clifton said they tried to encourage the Ghosts to field a team but they were “not in a position to do so”.

    “Neither are Gwydir at this stage,” Clifton said.

    In both cases the reformation of the league side has drawn away numbers.

    “Guyra has been affected by league starting up,” Clifton said.

    “That’s also the case in Gwydir where Warialda have indicated they’re restarting a league team.

    “Gwydir drew quite a few people from the Warialda area.”

    They will still field second and third grade.

    Clifton is also hoping Pirates will again field a side in the third grade competition as they did last season.

    It would give them six – the same as second grade.

    Pirates president Kelvin Collyer said they haven’t made a final call on it yet, but indicated it was looking unlikely.

    “It was really difficult last year because of the different locations,” he said. “It left us a bit skinny for numbers in second grade.”

    There were games they had only 15 or 16 players for second grade.

    It will depend on numbers which way they decide.

    As for the Elks they have long boasted some of the best players in the competition but haven’t necessarily had the spread of depth to be competitive – or the numbers, although they have picked up in the last couple of years, and that was what prompted them to have a crack at first grade, president Michael Lamph said.

    It’s something they’ve been thinking about for the last couple of years.

    “After last year’s second grade win it was put to us,” he said.

    On the back of that they felt the time was right.

    He said they’ve been getting a consistent roll-up of 15-18 to training, but are struggling a bit for depth in key positions such as the front row.

    Any front rowers will be more than welcome.

    He’s hoping the fact that they are playing in first grade and a stronger competition might flush a few more players out.

    They have the bye on Saturday but have already got into the swing of things.

    Last Saturday they had trials against the Yamba Buccaneers and Woolgoolga Wombats.

    They won both games in what was a promising start.

    This weekend’s action will see Armidale hosting Robb in a grand final rematch and St Alberts playing Barbarians in the first grade.

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