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Phasing out junior rugby league finals on trial

Canberra Region Rugby League looks set to gradually phase out finals in the youngest junior age groups, but general manager Mark Vergano says children who are already playing finals wouldn't have them taken away.

Vergano will closely watch trials of several changes set for South-East Queensland and Victoria next year, which have been designed to reverse the downward trend of junior participation in rugby league.

Canberra Region Rugby League general manager Mark Vergano  says they'll gradually phase out finals for the younger junior age groups.

Canberra Region Rugby League general manager Mark Vergano says they’ll gradually phase out finals for the younger junior age groups.Credit: Jeffrey Chan

Having been a sports administrator for a number of years across several sports, Vergano said the player development framework was one of the most impressive reports he'd seen.

The key changes from the report include scrapping finals until under-13s, an 18-month registration window to allow children born late in the year to play in the age group below and teaching safe tackling techniques before introducing tackling in games.

Canberra's under-nine rugby league competition already doesn't have finals and Vergano said sports like soccer and cricket had already scratched finals for young juniors.

Vergano said the plan was to gradually phase out finals as the under-nines go up through the age brackets.

For example, next season there wouldn't be any under-10s finals.

"It's not about taking anything away that the kids already have. There may be a transition period," Vergano said.

"The group that's going through at the moment would hold on to [finals]. We are looking at next year transitioning the nines going into under-10s as being non points table.

"The ones that have already started playing under the competition table format will [continue playing finals]."

Vergano was full of praise for the report, which has been designed because of concerns at the rate at which children are leaving the game of rugby league.

Twenty-five per cent of 6-12-year-olds stopped playing the game.

The hope was that these changes would make the game less intimidating  and help build confidence around things such as tackling and being tackled.

He was interested in how the trials pan out next season, which will be held in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Ipswich in Queensland, as well as Victoria.

"Whatever makes it a better experience we'd be fully supportive of," Vergano said.

"I've read the full report. I think it was an excellent report – evidence based, well researched, well presented – and keenly looking at the outcomes from the trials for next year."

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