Group 3 pre-season to stay

GROUP Three Rugby League's pre-season looks set to stay, however, there will be changes to the finals day format next season.

It looks certain the under 18s will be played on a Saturday, with the senior grades on a Sunday.

Group secretary Barrie Smith admits the program for the finals at Wingham last Sunday was too long.

"If we get permission from the clubs to run with a pre-season next year I'd say there will be some modifications,'' he said.

Matches started at 10am last Sunday. Winning teams from the opening week played in the shield competition with the losers involved in a plate. Forster-Tuncurry qualified for the plate final but were forced to forfeit citing a number of injuries sustained in their 18-18 draw with Port City in the early game. This meant the shield final was played earlier.

"But if the Hawks hadn't forfeited we wouldn't have started the shield final until well after 6pm and that's just too late,'' Mr Smith said.

"Next year I'd say we'd play the 18s on a Saturday and the seniors on a Sunday. The games will be at two different venues to give clubs an opportunity to make some money.''

Games in the opening week of the pre-season were played at Wauchope and Taree this year. Both attracted healthy attendances, with gate takings topping $2000 each day. Sunday's gate at Wingham was just under $3000.

Taree firm XX Trophies sponsored the pre-season this year and Mr Smith indicated the support will be there again in 2015.

Wingham won the pre-season, edging newcomers Macleay Valley out 14-10 in a hard fought final. This is the club's first success in Group Three since 2003. Port Macquarie defeated Port City in the under 18s.

Mr Smith confirmed that Forster-Tuncurry won't be fined for forfeiting the plate final.

Meanwhile the Group Three season launch will be held at the Wingham Services Club on Friday night.

Former Parramatta fullback and Port Macquarie Sharks coach Phil Mann will be the special guest.

Mann is one of the most successful coaches in Group Three history, guiding the Sharks to four consecutive premierships from 1990 to 93.

The Group Three competition-proper will kick off the weekend of April 26 and 27 when three matches will be played on a Sunday.

Wingham's clash with Port Macquarie will be the only Saturday game.

Forster-Tuncurry hosts Taree City while Old Bar heads to Kempsey to meet Macleay and Wauchope tackles Port City on the Sunday.

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