The Thirroul Butchers have sent shock waves through the regional rugby league community by withdrawing from their Presidents Cup match scheduled for this Saturday against Maitland at Maitland Sports Ground.
The future of the competition, which pits the champions of the four strongest community level leagues in the state to crown a statewide third-tier champion, is now in major doubt in just its second year running.
Thirroul Butchers president Brett Jones said that “player availability” at the end of an already arduous campaign was the main factor in the club’s withdrawal from the fixture.
“We had a couple of players announce their retirement sort of before the game and then we had a lot of injuries going into the game, we sort of limped into the finals,” he said.
“So to field a team up there it would have been from first division players, who didn’t make the finals, so they wouldn’t have played for four weeks, and under 18 players, so it was sort of a duty of care [not to play].
“We couldn’t field anything that looked like the team we won the Grand Final with.”
Jones said that although there are issues with how the Presidents Cup competition is run after the season, it was more an issue of timing for the Butchers on this occasion.
“I’m not saying the Presidents Cup is a bad idea or I’m dead against it or anything like that, but this wasn’t ideal, the timing of it all,” he said.
“The guys aren’t professional players, they are coal miners and they are carpenters and things like that.
“We had guys with injuries who were having time off of work to get their injuries right to play in a grand final, in a tough grand final that went down to the wire, and the last thing in their mind was backing up in two weeks’ time, four hours away.”
Maitland Pumpkin Pickers coach Matt Lantry said that whilst the decision was “disappointing” for his side, he respected why Thirroul made the call to forfeit.
“Yeah look it is disappointing, but you’ve got to respect Thirroul’s position as well if they don’t have enough players committed to coming down and competing against us,” he said.
“It doesn’t look like Illawarra are going to progress as a major competition anyway, so it probably does put the Presidents Cup under threat.
“I just think that each association needs to be upfront with everyone, to draw a line in the sand so we know where we sit with it all and whether it will or it won’t progress.”
As a result of the forfeit, Maitland now progress through to the final at Sydney’s Commbank Stadium on September 23, with the other finalist to be determined when Dubbo CYMS play St Marys on Sunday.
Video: Thirroul win 2023 Illawarra Rugby League grand final
The Thirroul Butchers ended a nine-year premiership drought by defeating Collegians 24-18 in the Illawarra Rugby League grand final at WIN Stadium two weeks ago. With their finals hopes looking shaky as little as two weeks before the playoffs began, the Butchers rallied to win four games in a row and come from fourth position and take out their ninth premiership in club history. Retiring fullback Wayne Bremner and coach Jarrod Costello were jubilant after their upset victory as UOWTV recaps the Butchers’ second half comeback to win a captivating finale for the 2023 season.