Competitive rugby league matches will be abolished until under-13s while tackling will be banned until midway through under-7s across the next four years in a shake-up set to move the goalposts in junior rugby league.
The National Rugby League and New South Wales Rugby League are believed to have signed off on the changes to junior footy with the new policy set to be announced in coming weeks.
The changes will flow down into country rugby league which has left local coaches with plenty of questions and left Group 3 junior rugby league disappointed at the lack of consultation.
Port City Breakers coach David Lacey has been around junior footy as a coach for the last seven years and believes the changes have come about to appease the minority.
"You're winning trophies at nippers when you come first in the under-8s so I don't know why rugby league has to be any different," he said.
"They start playing rep football from under-13s and that is when kids are scouted by clubs and put in development teams like the North Coast Bulldogs.
"(Under the proposed changes) you're not putting the kids under pressure until the under-13s."
Lacey said the common theme amongst junior players in the non-competitive under-6 to under-10 divisions is that they wanted to play with their mates.
But they also knew the score.
He felt the changes were a way to combat "aggressive parents and coaches on the sideline, but that's only hurting the kids."
"What harm does it do to the kids if they do want to play competitively to win a comp? I can't see any reason why they shouldn't be playing competitively from under-10s up," he said.
As it stands in NSW, teams in the under 6s, 7s and 8s do not play for competition points and do not have a finals series.
The emphasis is placed on learning and fun, while also reducing the pressure from parents on their children that exists when teams are playing for points.
The age barrier will change next year when the NSWRL increases the competitive age from under 9s to under 10s.
It's part of a plan to increase the non-competitive age from nine to 13 by 2026. In 2023 competitive rugby league competitions will begin at under 10s. It will rise to under 11s in 2024, under 12s in 2025 and under 13s in 2026.
Fellow coach Josh Hyde said other proposed changes which would see tackling banned until midway through under-7s were "ridiculous".
"At sixes and sevens it's all about confidence," Hyde said.
"If you've got kids playing Oztag for those first two years, you've still got to go through that 12-month period of getting them confident with contact which usually happens in your first year of 6s."
Children who are not eligible to play in tackle competitions will be required to play League Tag - a non-contact version of the game where participants grab tags attached with velcro to a player's shorts which indicates they have been "tackled".
Hyde was concerned that a tackle ban would delay the kids' ability to learn how to tackle properly from a younger age.
"Kids are going to find themselves getting hurt more [when they do transition into tackle] because they're not learning that tackle technique," he said.
He felt a better way to combat injuries and to help grow participation rates was to see the NSWRL and NRL with more of a presence in regional areas.
"The better way to get around it is by getting the NSWRL and NRL off their arses and out to junior training," he said.
"Get a group of coaches together for all the mini kids and do one session a month with them on teaching them how to employ the proper tackle techniques."
Group 3 Junior Rugby League president Warren Blissett said the group had been caught unaware by the proposed changes due to a lack of consultation between them, the NSWRL and NRL.
"Consultation would have been good to have had at the start of the year that this (rule changes) was the intention, but that didn't happen which makes change unpalatable," he said.
"There will be a lot of push-back from the clubs which I can understand when it's not discussed."
Mr Blissett thought the changes would be a good thing, but player retention numbers over the next two years would be the ultimate guide.
"In a year and a half we may see some parents vote with their feet. It's just a great unknown how the sporting public for our code will take this change," he said.
"The challenge to clubs and the group will be the purists that are still there that would say the game is about catch, pass and tackle and [the new changes] take that away from the game."
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