Rhinos pull out of first grade
THE Grafton Rhinos have taken Byron Bay's lead from last year and will only be fielding a reserve grade and under-18 side in the 2012 Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition.
Lack of early sponsorship and commitment from players has left the club with no alternative but to pull its first grade side from the competition.
Rhinos' reserve grade coach Eddie De Bono contacted the Examiner yesterday with the news which will affectively leave several first grade players without a club in 2012.
"We just held our first official committee meeting on Monday night after our emergency AGM," De Bono said.
"We addressed a couple of issues - how we were going with our sponsors and with our playing roster.
"We have decided not to go with a first grade team this season. The decision came down to player commitment and money.
"The players were all asking for extra money on top of what we had already done."
According to De Bono, the club looked at every angle hoping to field three teams this season but in the end most first grade players were hesitant to put pen to paper.
"We approached every player from last season and they kept on keeping us in the dark and have been for too long," De Bono said. "We just couldn't get them to commit."
De Bono admits the last few weeks have tested the club's resolve but has no doubt the Rhinos can be successful this season without a first grade side on the paddock.
"We've had a successful team the last five years, the committee has been run fine and the players have been fine," he said.
"We haven't had a lot of issues to contend with.
"Our current committee has gone from six to 18 or 19 and we've signed some new sponsors recently.
"We've also had positive training sessions - up to 20 junior players and about 30 seniors each week."
De Bono did, however, want to set the record straight concerning just how competitive his reserve grade squad would be after Byron took out the NRRRL reserve grade final last year.
"I'm sure there is going to be a few questions about stacking my team ... if I'm going to have six or seven first graders," he said.
"As far as I know, we only have two regular first grade players who are prepared to stay with the club. Sam Woods and Neori Kuramalawa are keen to commit."
With no first grade side for 2012 De Bono confirmed the club would not be putting pressure on star centre Joe Ravueta to stay on at the club.
"If Joe came to me and said he wanted to play reserve grade for the Rhinos I couldn't say no but I'll try my best to encourage him to go elsewhere," De Bono admitted.
"At this stage we're trying to link him with the Ipswich Jets. We've contacted them and they're keen to take Joe on board."
De Bono added first grade coach Shane Osborne will still remain involved with the club.
President of the NRRRL Brian Rix said although it was sad the Rhinos would not be fielding a first grade side this season he was pleased to see the club remain viable.
"You only need a minimum of two teams so it's not a problem," Rix said.
"Obviously we encourage all clubs to field three teams but we understand things can get tight financially and with player numbers."