THE Canterbury Bulldogs have formalised their support of Country Rugby League (CRL) and the Greater Northern Region of CRL (GNR) after signing an historic Memorandum of Understanding for a new representative development pathway for participants in Groups 4, 19 and 21.
The exciting new partnership will feature a clear visual link to the club with its coaching and development staff providing support to players, mentors and trainers in the GNR Representative Pathway through the creation of satellite training programs and hosting of coaching updates throughout the season.
"Today is an important milestone because it's an opportunity for us to work with a really proud rugby league area," Bulldogs' head of football Gareth Holmes said.
"We know there is a lot of talent that plays in the bush so this is about providing them with a clear development pathway to purse that and be part of an NRL system.
"We're blessed to have the resources and big footy clubs in Sydney and we wish to use our resources, expertise and coaching and game development in these areas
"In turn, we also want to give them the opportunity so that they can play at the highest level."
Holmes proudly stood among club legends Andrew Ryan and Mark Hughes when making the announcement at Singleton's Pirtek Park on Thursday afternoon.
"This is huge, I grew up in Dubbo so to have an NRL club be involved is just phenomenal," Ryan added.
"They (Canterbury) have a big reach now and I was a Canterbury fan as a kid before playing with them for nine years so I think it's huge for both the club and this area."
Ryan, who was the last man to captain the Bulldogs to an NRL premiership in 2004, now works as the NRL's welfare and education officer.
He describes the deal as the "best of both worlds".
"I work with NRL and CRL and a lot of my role is to educate those in the 15-to-16-year-old age bracket to have a pathway away from football," he explained.
"Whether that be through trade, vet pathways or university but also they get to remain education themselves in their home environment.
"I've been saying it for a long time, the longer kids stay in their home towns the better off they are going to be in terms of finishing their schooling and chasing their dreams."
After 11 years of hard work on the Bengalla Hunter Valley Group 21 Rugby League executive, its secretary (and CRL delegate) Jane Walmsley felt relieved that such an arrangement had come to fruition.
"To finally have this happen is just fabulous, we've waited a long time and we felt just that little bit behind some of the other areas," she said.
"For this to take place is fabulous for the players as well as the parents who won't need to travel as much to Sydney as they have in recent years."
When asked if this announcement would dampen relations with the Newcastle Knights, the region's closest geographical club, both she and CRL chairman John Anderson extinguished the claim.
"I guess you could say there was an unspoken agreement with the Knights for a number of years given we're on their door step," she replied.
"But, for reasons, that didn't happen and we're now proud to be working with the Bulldogs."
Anderson added, "I don't think it's been neglected by the Newcastle franchise and they still have the right people at their club.
"Today we're just proud to share this news."
"This region goes right up to the border all the way up to Tenterfield and Tamworth right down to the Hunter Valley and it's been one of the nurseries of the NRL."
Two Singleton Greyhounds were also on hand to learn that they will still be showcasing their Greater Northern Tigers traditional black and gold colours in the CRL's Andrew Johns Cup and Laurie Daley Cup junior representative and men's under-23's and women's Country Championship competitions.
This was significant news for reigning Group 21 rookie of the year James Bradley, 19, and his second-rower Jackson Shade, 16.
The duo remained on the park discussing the announcement and their own upcoming season with the Bulldogs' recruiting officer.
"This (announcement) has been a long time coming for old school guys like me," Hughes said.
"In fact, the Super League announced this plan back in 1996 so here we are 23 years later and it's finally happened.
"The Bulldogs have always wanted to have an association and I guess that the foresight of these people, and the game needing it, has brought us to today.
"Most of the NRL clubs have at least adopted one or two country groups but we've taken on two groups on the North Coast and now three inland adjacent to one another which is wonderful."
The former Canterbury legend also made a bold prediction for the region just moments after the announcement was made.
"I know that historically this region has produced one NRL player per year and it's competitive to make it to the NRL," Hughes added.
"We aim to make it more than one per year going forward."
"Being an old school developer of players I can already tell that the old school country people are wrapped up that this has finally happened."
Coincidentally, the Bulldogs will celebrate the 50th NRL game of former Singleton Greyhound Kerrod Holland this Sunday when travelling to AAMI Park to take on the Melbourne Storm (see story).