FOR the first time in some seasons no clear-cut favourite for premiership honours has emerged in Group Three Rugby League.
Group Three chairman Wayne Bridge said the relative unpredictability of the competition has been among the highlights of the opening six rounds. There's no football in Group Three this weekend.
"Look at Wingham, they beat the Sharks last weekend and they've also beaten Port City,'' Mr Bridge said.
"In between those games they were thrashed by Old Bar. Each week there's a bit of doubt about how games are going to go and that's a good thing.''
Mr Bridge said the fact the Pirates have emerged as genuine premiership contenders is also a highlight.
Northern clubs have dominated Group Three since 2008. Forster-Tuncurry (2011) was the last southern team to win the title.
"Wingham's also been competitive. Unfortunately it looks as though Taree City and Forster might struggle, but to be fair, we have five or maybe six sides who could win the comp.''
Wauchope sits on top of the ladder and has yet to drop a game, although the Blues were held to a draw by Port Macquarie. Wingham ended Port's unbeaten run last Saturday at Wingham in the upset of the year.
Mr Bridge said two pre-season concerns, referee and under 18 numbers, improved once the competition started.
"We were worried about Taree City and Wingham (under 18s), but they have better numbers now. The Bulls have been competitive and Wingham won their first game last weekend,'' he said.
Mr Bridge concedes the group's not flush with referees.
"Our top referees, like Clayton Thomas and Bayley Dimarco, are young blokes, so that's a promising sign for the future. And there's strong competition among the refs for the top job.''
After this weekend clubs face 11 consecutive matches in the run-in to finals.
Clubs voted to play a 17 rounds season this year, starting in April and ending in early September. However, the March floods resulted in the competition kicking off on May 1, with the grand final on September 26 - the latest finish in the group's history.
Mr Bridge agreed that there could be some forfeits in minor grades towards the end of the season due to the length of the competition.
"I'm hoping not, but I guess that's a possibility,'' he said.
The inaugural women's tackle competition will start on July 31 with four sides, Macleay Valley, Wingham, Wauchope and Forster-Tuncurry involved.
Mr Bridge expects there'll be some crossover of players from league tag and tackle but he's confident that this won't have an impact on either competitions.
Mr Bridge said that a closely fought premiership means there's more standout games each round.
All four matches will be of consequence next weekend when play resumes, Mr Bridge pointed out. Unbeaten Wauchope will play third placed Old Bar at Wauchope and struggling clubs Taree City and Forster Tuncurry meet at the Jack Neal Oval on Saturday.
On Sunday semi-final contenders Wingham and Macleay clash at Wingham while the two Port clubs go head to head at Port Macquarie.
"There's interest in all the games and that's good for the comp,'' Mr Bridge said.
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