AMATEUR rugby league in York has suffered a major blow after Heworth ARLC - formerly one of the best community clubs in the country - withdrew from the National Conference League just one game into the new season.

The Elm Park Way club - champions of the NCL, then called the National League, in its inaugural 1986-87 season - have cited a lack of playing strength for their shock decision.

They began the new division three season with a 48-10 home defeat by Dewsbury Moor Maroons ten days ago, before having Saturday's game against Woolston Rovers postponed.

It is is thought they intend to join the Yorkshire Men's League, whose season kicks off in early April. The club's big junior section, meanwhile, is not affected.

Club secretary and long-serving former player Ken Sykes said: "The bottom line is that we are not strong enough to compete at this level and feel that our very young squad would benefit from taking a step backwards in the hope and expectation that we can progress forward at a later date.

"We have thoroughly enjoyed most our 30 years in the NCL and are proud of our achievements and participation in the best by far amateur league in the country.

"On a personal level it has hit me and a few other old stalwarts very hard.

"But we are confident we are making the right decision for our club as a whole.

"We would like to wish the NCL committee, many of whom are our friends, and the member clubs all the best for the future."

The Villagers, founded in 1922, won an unprecedented three consecutive Yorkshire League premier division championships from 1982 to 1985, before becoming leading lights in the new NCL.

They also hold the record as the only amateur club to be involved in an all-ticket game, with a 1987-88 Challenge Cup tie against the then holders Halifax drawing an attendance of nearly 5,000.

Heworth won the Yorkshire Cup for the first time in 1993-94, going on to record a treble by also lifting the National Conference League Cup and first division title.

In 1994/95 they were runners-up in the NCL premier division and finalists in the Yorkshire Cup and reached the third round of the Challenge Cup, losing 40-28 at Leigh - scoring at that time the most points ever by an amateur team against professional opposition. They also lost only 22-18 at pro side Bramley the following year.

However, after more recently tumbling down the NCL tiers, they have spent the last few years struggling at the wrong end of the bottom division.

They made some strides last season when finishing in mid-table and winning the league's Fair Play award but have since seen coach Tim Rumford depart to take up the reins at expansion pro club Oxford, taking leading players Danny Allan, Adam Withington and Jonny Payne with him. Highly-rated youngster Liam Richmond has also signed pro at York City Knights.

Chairman of the NCL Trevor Hunt said: "It is a very sad day indeed to lose one of our founder members in Heworth, who have served the league diligently and with great support ever since its inception in 1986.

"The hard working Heworth committee have worked long and hard, but the loss of a large number of key players to the professional ranks has left them with a young squad that would be vulnerable in this level of competition.

"We wish the club every success in the future and look forward to the day when they will re-apply for the NCL to regain their place in the amateur game's top flight.

"My sincere thanks and best wishes go to everyone at the Heworth club."