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 优盈2案例     |      2020-06-05
Hanging on: Easts will play in third and fourth grade this year after being forced to withdraw from the John I Dent Cup. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Canberra's oldest rugby club will be absent from the first-grade competition for the first time in 82 years after coronavirus and a lack of players forced Easts to withdraw from the John I Dent Cup.

But ACT Rugby Union officials and rival clubs have made a commitment to be "flexible" to help the foundation club rebuild with a view to a potential first-grade comeback next year.

It's understood Easts officials made the heartbreaking call last week when only a small group of players said they would be available for the resumption of training.

The club had been struggling for several years and in the end the coroanvirus shutdown saw player numbers dwindle beyond the point of being able to field a competitive first XV this season.

Easts were the only foundation club remaining in the competition after being one of the four "originals" when Easts, Uni, Norths and RMC started the Canberra first-grade competition in 1938. President Huia Edmonds has been working since October to try to save the club from extinction and was initially granted an exemption to field just two teams in the premier divisions.

It became more and more obvious Easts would struggle to field a strong team this year and club presidents were informed this week of their withdrawal. Brumbies deputy chief executive and community rugby general manager Craig Leseberg said: ''Easts are a foundation club with a rich and proud history.

"It's important that we remain flexible and adaptable to support their needs during this challenging time.

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''We are committed to working closely with Easts Rugby president Huia Edmonds and the Easts executive over the coming months around their coach and player development strategy to relaunch in 2021."

It's understood Easts coach Tim Cornforth stepped down last week, leaving a massive hole in the club after he spent the past few years trying to revive their on-field performance.

They showed glimpses of brilliance, snapping a 1106-day winning drought in 2018 that made grown men cry at Griffith Oval, and becoming the first team in two years to beat Royals in the same season.

But the good moments were few and far between as the club struggled to retain players and battled through more than a decade of hard times since their last grand final appearance in 2008.

They forfeited a game against Tuggeranong in 2014 and suffered a 92-0 thrashing in the same season.

Edmonds has been working behind the scenes to put systems in place and build the player base, but there wasn't enough light at the end of the tunnel to commit to a coronavirus season.

"It would be a huge plus if we could keep this club in the top-tier rugby competition in Canberra," Edmonds said last month. "They're the oldest club in Canberra. The last thing we want to do is to lose a club like Easts because of dropping numbers.

"I'm just here to help this club as much as possible to keep the sport go as much as possible. This sport has given so much to me and all I want to do is to help and give back. I don't think we can survive [as a competition] if we keep losing clubs like Easts in Canberra."

So Easts will instead play in the first-division competition, effectively third and fourth grade, when and if amateur rugby resumes in Canberra. Easts' allocated ACT Brumbies players will be assigned to John I Dent Cup rivals, but are expected to return to the Griffith-based club if a first-grade comeback is approved next year.

Leseberg and his team are working to put together a competition this season after losing the bulk of the year to the coronavirus shutdown.

Teams were granted permission to start training this week, but no competition date has been set to avoid disappointment or pressure to meet a deadline in an uncertain period.

The Uni-Norths Owls had more than 100 players at training on Tuesday night and other clubs reported similar numbers in a sign participation will be strong, while Leseberg told an online forum on Wednesday night only three clubs in the region had said they would not be able to play this year.

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