New England Rugby: Glen Innes poised to return to first grade ranks

Step up: Glen Innes will return to the first grade fold for the first time since 2016. The Elks have played third grade for the last two seasons, winning the premiership last season. Photo: Ellen Dunger
Step up: Glen Innes will return to the first grade fold for the first time since 2016. The Elks have played third grade for the last two seasons, winning the premiership last season. Photo: Ellen Dunger

Glen Innes president Sam Price admits they are a bit of an unknown quantity at this stage but is optimistic of fielding a competitive first grade side this season.

After welcoming an influx of players the Elks are set to field sides in both the New England first and second grade competitions, as well as the women's 7s.

The Elkettes won the inaugural premiership in 2016 but haven't taken the field since.

That same year was the last time the Elks - as a sole entity - played in the top grade.

They joined forces with Guyra for the 2017 season before dropping back to third grade for the last two seasons.

The decision to step up to first grade comes amid a surge in interest on the back of the COVID-19 crisis.

At the start of the season, while numbers were encouraging, Price said the intention was to probably stay in third grade.

While they went on to win the title last year, they did struggle for numbers.

Particularly early on in the season they played a lot of games with only 14 or 15 players.

But then other competitions started falling over and, faced with the prospect of no footy, more and more players expressed an interest in playing with the Elks.

Price said they have picked up a number of local league players.

After the Central North competition was abandoned several Inverell players have also expressed an interest in playing with the club this season.

"We've got about 40 players that are pretty comfortable that they're going to play every week," he said.

"So obviously that puts us in a position of too many players for one team, so we have to play two."

And with no third grade competition they were already going to have to step up to second grade.

He said everyone is "really excited" and can't wait for the season to start.

"It will be interesting to see how we go this year just with such a cross-section of different players that haven't played together," Price said.

They won't really know though how they stand until they resume training next month.

"We've organised for training to commence on the 2nd of July," Price said.

"So that will be the first proper official training run."

The understanding is that they will be able to resume contact training by then.

With the current limitations, a number of players that haven't played rugby before and such a widespread player base, they felt it wasn't really worthwhile to start training before they could train at full capacity.