Narrabri Rugby Club’s first grade coach Hunter Harley has been denied what could have been a sensational swansong this weekend as a result of COVID-19 rearing its ugly head once again and forcing the cancellation of the 2021 Central North Rugby Union season.

Harley’s Blue Boars were firing this season and were set to enter the first grade finals series, alongside Gunnedah, Pirates and Walcha, as the favourites to not only host the grand final but also win their first grade premiership in six years.

In a perfect world, a champion would have been crowned this Saturday during what should have been the zone’s first grand final day held in two years.

But it was not to be after the CNRU executive announced last week that it had abandoned the 2021 season, meaning that no major premiership would be awarded for a second consecutive year.

Harley coached the Blue Boars to first grade premiership victory in 2014 and 2015 as well as a grand final appearance in 2013, and was hoping to guide his beloved club to the top one last time before riding off into the sunset.

While he did not completely rule out coaching again in 2022, he told The Courier yesterday he most likely would not be at the helm during the club’s next campaign.

“I don’t think I’ll go around again,” Harley said.

“I’ve enjoyed my run but I think it’s time to let someone else have a crack.

“I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire for succession plans that I want to help with and I still hope to be a part of the club in some way or another.”

The successful Blue Boars coach said that juggling work commitments with the long rugby union season was tough on everyone involved in the sport.

“It’s such a big commitment, you start late January and finish around the October long weekend,” he said.

“I think that people are busier these days so it takes a toll on families, balancing sport and work.

“That balance is not what it was when life was a bit slower.

“There’s a lot more competition these days with sport in general.

“I think the zone may need to look at a round and a half or even one round and finals, maybe shorten it up and start later.

“They need to think outside the square a bit to keep everyone coming through and engaged.

“I think that’s the biggest challenge.”

The Blue Boars coach said that despite those challenges, he expected most of, if not the entire playing group to go around again in 2022.

While a few experienced heads were expected to hang up the boots at the end of this season, a real feeling of ‘unfinished business’ will linger into 2022 and inspire what Harley described as a talented playing group to go after CNRU glory.

Meanwhile, Harley labelled the decision to cancel the remainder of the 2021 campaign as “disappointing for everyone”, but heaped praise on the CNRU executive for the way they handled the latest of many COVID-19 challenges.

“It’s quite deflating,” Harley said of the season cancellation.

“It’s been a long time [since pre-season started] and a lot of work has been done.

“Even last year, we did so much work in the pre-season I almost felt like it was a whole season that didn’t get any result. We were excited for this year after that.

“The most frustrating thing is the what-ifs and all the chat.

“You’re not going to stop other clubs from saying ‘we would’ve won it’ or whatever.

“It just would have been nice to finish the year and get an outcome and take the what-ifs and all that out of it.”

“From both the club’s and my perspective, I think the zone handled the situation magnificently,” Harley added.

“They did a cracking job.

“They had a pointed plan at each stage of the lockdown that they would revert to, and it eventually came to a certain time where they had to call it.

“They were clear and concise with all of their instructions and directions.

“While we don’t want the season to be finished, the zone did everything they could, and at least we’re not sitting there like some other codes pondering and wondering.”

Harley also praised the Narrabri Rugby Club’s committee for all of its hard work across the past two years and said the club was in good hands.

“Mick Coffey, what can I say, you couldn’t ask for much more from the likes of him and Tim Whan, the directors and everyone else on the ncommittee,” Harley said.

“They are so supportive of the football side of things.

“We’ve got a really good young committee and Coff’s the right man to continue leading them forward, I think he’s done a great job, a fantastic job.”

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