GROUP Three Rugby League will discuss the possibility of playing under 18 matches on Friday nights to counter a lack of referees.
The group's management committee was due to meet last night to consider a proposal from group secretary Barrie Smith.
Mr Smith warned in the Times last month that the group would face a problem with referee numbers this year now the competition has expanded to include Macleay Valley in four grades. This was despite assurances from the referees' association that numbers would be adequate.
Under a preliminary draw put together by Mr Smith two venues would be used each Friday night for the under 18s.
To counter the problem with the lack of lights at Taree City's home ground, the Jack Neal Oval, matches at Taree would be played on Sunday. Clubs would get to host the same number of home games.
Mr Smith said there just aren't enough referees now to control games. This year the group lost three first grade referees from last season, Brandon Vidler, Wayne Archer and Zac Schembri along with Neil Russell, who controlled reserve grade and under 18s.
The group also didn't gain any referees from the Kempsey area despite Macleay coming into the competition.
"We need 16 centre referees for out games each week,'' Mr Smith explained.
"At the moment we have 12 and this includes Gary Bridge, who is only available for nine of the 14 weekends.''
Referee appointments have been made for the opening round where three games will be played on Sunday.
While all positions have been filled Mr Smith said there are a number of referees backing up for duty on Saturday and Sunday.
"That's okay for the first week, but it won't last for a full season,'' he said.
"And that's not taking into account referees being injured or just unavailable. We'll face a real problem in the second week when all our games will be on Sunday because of the under 18 representative trials in Coffs Harbour.''
Mr Smith expects there will be opposition from clubs to playing 18s on Friday night.
"It would mean they'd have to double up with trainers while they'd also need gate keepers and canteen workers,'' he said.
"Having no 18s would also impact on their crowds for the weekend matches. The junior league is playing 16s on a Friday night and there could be a clash of venues while the senior clubs may also want to use some of the 16s at times.''
Mr Smith said playing women's league tag on Friday evenings wouldn't alleviate the problem as only one referee and no touch judges are required for these fixtures.
Mr Smith said there is another possibility where clubs could provide personnel to act as touch judges for the minor grades.
They would have to be registered with the Country Rugby League voluntary workers scheme to cover insurance while the CRL would also have to give the green light.
"But this does happen in other areas out west where there's a shortage of referees,'' he said.
Mr Smith said the proposals would need ratification from the clubs and would be put to either the general committee or the competition committee.
"But we have to make a decision very soon,'' Mr Smith said.