Canberra Region Rugby League confirmed today that the Canberra Raiders First Grade Cup will be played in 2020.
After six teams from the 2019 CRC pulled out of the competition following a long COVID-19 layoff, only three were left: the Queanbeyan Blues, the Woden Rams, and the Gungahlin Bulls.
At a minimum, the competition needs four teams to be viable. After several days of speculation, the CRRL confirmed today that the Canberra Raiders Under 20s team would step in and fill the void.
"It's a great positive for our team. Missing out on football this year would have been a detriment to our players, so for them to get a week in week out competition is great," Raiders Under 20s coach Ash Barnes said.
"We'd like to thank the CRRL and clubs for the opportunity and support."
The young Raiders side usually plays in the Jersey Flegg Cup, a NSW-based competition aimed at players under the age of 20 who are identified as potential future NRL players.
As such, CRRL general manager Mark Vergano is sure they will be an excellent addition to the Canberra Raiders Cup, which is slated to get underway on the weekend of July 25.
Vergano described this year's competition as "meeting the needs of both [the CRRL and the Raiders Under 20s]".
"The Jersey Flegg Under 20s had been suspended by NSWRL in March, and it subsequently went from a suspension to a cancellation," he said.
"A fairly important part of the development plan had been curtailed, so we then had a potential opportunity to make sure that the young Raiders players got football.
"Parallel to that of course was that some clubs took their decision [to end their season].
"A number of clubs took decisions that they felt to be prudent financially, but there were three teams still eager to progress. As a sport, we wanted to give our players as much potential playing time as possible."
The shortened competition will be played over nine rounds, which will be followed by a grand final in the last weekend of September.
"Considering the situation, we're more than happy to be able to provide that," Vergano said. "It fits in a nice little envelope, about half a regular season."
Though they are highly talented and well-trained, the question remains whether the Raiders Under 20s will be competitive against competitors who are physically mature and highly experienced.
"Some [of the players] would've played men's league already in their local area before they joined the Raiders, and some will be progressing through [the local ranks]," Vergano said.
"We consulted with the Raiders staff, this was done with input from them, so they must be confident about that."
Along with the announcement about the CRC, the CRRL also confirmed that the George Tooke Shield will be played in 2020, though numbers and exact dates are yet to be confirmed.
Meanwhile, Reserve Grade, Under 19's, Ladies League Tag and the Women's Tackle competitions are still under development.
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