GAME OVER: Centre Guy Lanston scores a try playing for Northern Rivers at the NSW Country Championships earlier this year. Lanston is one of several players who will be too old to play under the new Under-23 format next season.
GAME OVER: Centre Guy Lanston scores a try playing for Northern Rivers at the NSW Country Championships earlier this year. Lanston is one of several players who will be too old to play under the new Under-23 format next season. Emily Burley

End of era for Northern Rivers representative rugby league

CHANGES to the format of the NSW Country Rugby League Championships means the bulk of the 2016 team will be ineligible to play next year.

The Country Rugby League has announced plans following their annual general meeting to scrap the current model and replace it with an Under-23s competition.

It means the chance to represent the Northern Rivers and NSW Country is affectively finished for anyone over the age of 23.

Only a couple of players from the Northern Rivers team that took part at the Country Championships this year will be eligible to play in 2017.

CRL chief executive Terry Quinn believes the new format will provide greater opportunities for regional players to progress through the pathway to higher honours.

He said the decision to change the Country Championships was made to allow for a greater number of players who don't make the (NRL) Under-20s to still have the opportunity to play at a higher level.

It is also hoped that the under-23's format will cater to late maturing players while giving them a another pathway.

New Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League president Robin Harley believes the local side will struggle under the new format.

"We'll definitely struggle to put a quality side together in Under-23s,” Harley said.

"It will be a waste of time because the NRL identification programs will have the players they want locked down well before they're 23.

"If you haven't made it by that stage (to the NRL) then it really isn't going to happen.

"Anthony Don is probably the only one that springs to mind as a late bloomer and he made his NRL debut at 25.”

The new format will align more closely with the Australian Rugby League Commission's Pathways model and structures.

"While the decision to restructure the Country Championships was difficult, we believe the new format will provide a greater opportunity for regional players to progress into the Intrust Super Cup and NRL,” Quinn said.

"By restructuring we are giving more players in our peak participation range the opportunity to advance.”



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