A club-driven decision to change the Southland club rugby format has resulted in four Eastern Southland teams stepping up to the revamped premier grade.
Former division one teams Wyndham, Edendale, Riversdale and Waikaka will play in the new competition.
Te Anau and Midlands are also included in the group.
Rugby Southland club development officer Bob Cullen said Wyndham and Midlands had approached the association with an expression of interest in playing at the higher level.
“Wyndham and Midlands came to us in October saying they would like to make the move, so it’s been a completely club-driven decision.
“We consulted all the teams through all the different competitions – we want some vibrancy in country rugby,” he said.
The change meant the six teams would compete against the 2018 premier teams – Star, Blues, Pirates Old Boys, Marist, Woodlands and Eastern Northern Barbarians, creating a 12-team competition.
The 12 teams would split into two pools of six and play five weeks of round robin within their pools.
The competition would then split into top six and bottom six and play for a further 10 rounds.
“The pools have been made up from seedings from last year’s competitions.”
The top six will play for the Walter Galbraith Shield, while the bottom pool will play for the Acker Soper Shield.
“The format is a good way for the teams to dip the toe in the water playing at the top, and then they can always fall back into their comfort zone in the next round – it’s a good test of the playing strength and their determination,” Mr Cullen said.
Wyndham president Aaron Davidson said the club was excited to be involved in the change.
“The boys started talking about it after the final last year; they really wanted to test themselves, so we’re quite excited,” Mr Davidson said.
Having the competition with more clubs playing at the top level would help rugby in Southland, he said.
Edendale rugby coach Mike Cunningham said the club was “100%” behind the competition.
“We put the decision to the boys last year and they wanted to move and give it a good crack – we’re right behind the competition,” Mr Cunningham said.
The format provided exposure for the club and the opportunity to attract players, he said.
Riversdale coach Phil Blatch said the competition would be tough for the club.
“We’re probably not overall blessed with numbers – we’ve just got to have a positive attitude towards the season and get stuck right in,” Mr Blatch said.
Waikaka manager Peter McCrae said the competition was the best thing for Southland rugby, but the club was probably not quite prepared for the new format.
“We’re probably one or two years ourselves from being ready for it but it is what it is – we know we can foot it with the Riversdales, Wyndhams and Edendales, so it’s about stepping up to that next level,” he said.
However, Waikaka was in better shape at this part of the season compared with last season, he said.
“Willy Orpwood and Clint McIvor have come on board as coaches this season – Clint’s got a lot of experience and Willy was the fitness trainer last season.”
see how the teams had prepared for the new competition and said it would be nice for them to play different teams from around the province. .
“They will come up against at least three premier teams from last year – I’m looking forward to it.”