BEING dumped into the National Conference League’s new-look division three might not necessarily be a springboard for success as has been claimed.
That was Heworth ARLC’s fear after they failed in their appeal against relegation as punishment for not fulfilling a fixture.
The troubled Villagers, who have not won a game for two years, would have had to apply for re-election to division two after finishing bottom of the pile last term.
However, the restructuring of the league means a new fourth tier is coming into the NCL’s jurisdiction, and the York outfit are now having to start again at that level, along with Crosfields and Featherstone Lions, who finished in mid-table but likewise missed one game.
They will almost certainly be voted in, but club spokesman Ken Sykes remained disappointed at the club’s fate, and by no means expected promotion to be on the cards, given the standard of some of the clubs coming in.
Said Sykes: “People have said to me it might not be a bad thing, and that ‘you can find your feet, rebuild and come back stronger’.
“But I don’t think it (demotion) will help us. There will be strong teams coming in and there will be a massive amount of travelling. There might be one or two weaker teams but I don’t think it will be a weak league. It won’t be easy at all.”
Division three, as it was this year, was an add-on to the NCL’s three other divisions, but was administered not by the NCL but by the Rugby Football League. There was no promotion or relegation to or from division two. Next year, though, it will become an official NCL tier, with promotion and relegation.
Seven clubs – Kells, Piklington Recs, Coventry, Underbank, Wigan St Cuthbert’s, Hindley and Peterlee – are to enter the league, and there are two applications from Woolston and Blackbrook awaiting approval. These nine, along with Crosfields, Featherstone Lions and Heworth, are to make up this new division three.
Sykes said: “The basis of our appeal was we felt the decision was severe. We weren’t unhappy with the fine (£100) and we accepted the fact we didn’t fulfil that fixture.
“We feel, though, that they used this situation as an opportunity to bolster the new division. The new constitution of the league has still not been accepted. As it stands, there is a premier division, division one and division two. Any demotion to that (fourth) tier should only have come in the season after, not now. They (league chiefs) would say not. They would say that if you fail to fulfil a fixture you will be demoted.
“We’ve been in the National Conference League for 26 or 27 years since it started and we’ve played over 500 games, and we’ve failed to fulfil only this one game. There were also circumstances around that, so maybe we deserved some reasonable consideration.
“We got a fair hearing. But they (league bosses) were in a difficult position. If they had acceded to us they might have had to do the same with the other clubs. We knew it would be a difficult task to avoid having to go down to division three but we felt it was right to make our feelings known.
“The league has always had this thing about ‘You must fulfil fixtures’.
“We can’t have a situation where clubs are crying off – once you allow that to creep in, where does it finish? We’ve accepted the decision and will be giving it our best shot in division three.”
As reported by The Press, Heworth’s relegation was announ-ced in an NCL statement which also confirmed the decision to demote Leigh East to division two had likewise been upheld after appeal.
NCL chairman Trevor Hunt said: “The NCL has the deepest sympathy for Heworth and the circumstances that saw them unable to raise a team.
“However, the competition rules are clear with regard to how the non-fulfilment of fixtures will be dealt with and we are pleased the appeals committee endorsed the decisions. Hopefully both clubs can put these issues behind them and look forward to a challenging 2013 that will present them with the opportunity to win and progress.”
Is summer switch to blame?
KEN SYKES reckons the National Conference League’s switch to summer rugby, plus the country’s economic situation, could be contributing factors in Heworth ARLC’s recent struggles.
He has also warned the league faces “challenging” times ahead.
The Elmpark Way outfit have not won for two years but hit their nadir in September when they failed to fulfil a fixture – at Widnes West Bank – for the first time since being founder members of the league (then the National League) in 1986. Punishment has duly come with demotion to the NCL’s newly-formed fourth tier.
The NCL moved from the traditional winter season to a summer campaign last year, coming into line with rugby league’s professional game, and Sykes believes the Villagers are not the only club to have had difficulties in overcoming hurdles such as holiday absences.
That said, New Earswick All Blacks, who play in the Pennine League, which has remained in winter, have also had to scrap their second team due to insufficient numbers.
The ongoing recession also means some players cannot pass up the chance of weekend work, making them unavailable.
Sykes said: “We’re not blaming summer rugby in particular, or the league. Lots of clubs have struggled this year, though.
“Four NCL teams failed to fulfil one fixture – that’s never happened before in winter. The number of teams who have travelled short on numbers, with 13, 14 or 15 players, has also risen.
“There are some challenges ahead and it will be interesting to see what happens next season, whether other clubs struggle and what will happen if other teams don’t fulfil a match.
“They’re only amateur players when all is said and done. They don’t get paid and they have to work. They’ve got families and other things to think about.
“We’ve got a few lads who work in the building trade and they said, ‘Look, I’ve got to work.’ “If I remember, on this occasion (when Heworth failed to get a team out), it was a bad week weather-wise. Some of them had not worked during the week and they had to work at the weekend.
“It has affected us and it will have affected other clubs as well.
“We had to do it. It was a situation we found ourselves in. We actually came back stronger after it. We fulfilled fixtures, we got that draw against Featherstone Lions, and showed some resilience towards the end of the season. We’ve got to come back stronger again now.”