Only nine teams will feature in the 2024 Illawarra District Rugby Union season after one of the region's most successful clubs pulled out of the senior men's competition. Avondale Wombats Rugby Union Club cited discontent with the introduction of a new points system to the rules of the IDRU competition, for not nominating any teams for the 2024 season. The Wombats will instead field a team in the second division Illawarra rugby league competition. It must be noted that clubs present at a IDRU meeting in August voted unanimously to maintain the amateur status of the game. It's understood Avondale did not participate in any of the meetings regarding changes to the competition rules. The IDRU stated that the 'points system' was being introduced to supplement the very strict amateur status rules which have now been part of Illawarra Rugby for many years. The rules were introduced to stop clubs from paying players years ago so that clubs were not stacking their sides with professional athletes against amateur players and, at the same time, maintaining the structure and integrity of clubs. The governing body claims the points system rewards clubs for bringing through local players but does not stop clubs from importing players subject to points or cap limits, nor does it stop players from transferring from outside of the area, even internationally as is commonly the case to play at a new club. The IDRU added that rules, particularly the points system, stops poaching and bolsters local clubs. But Avondale, who have played in the past two first-grade grand finals, and won four first-grade premierships since 2008, the last coming in 2019, believes the changes inhibit 'growth and opportunity" for players and clubs. The Wombats would not comment directly but referred the Mercury to the statement they made to IDRU explaining the club's reasons for pulling out of the competition. "After much discussion around the new points system that has been added to the rules of the IDRU competition, and the fact that the vast majority of clubs made clear their stance in playing against our club this year, we have decided as a collective that it wouldn't be in the best interest of our players and club to continue within the competition at this time," the statement reads. "We are working towards growth and opportunity and don't believe our players will achieve those opportunities under the current structure. "We were only able to offer our players very minimal game time in season 2023 due to the extreme amount of forfeitures we received. 'We don't believe the amendments made in the rules address these issues at all. "Whilst rugby will remain at the heart of our club we will pursue other options made available at our club at this time. "Our junior club will continue to foster the growth of many young aspiring rugby players and will continue to support the JIDRU and its program." IDRU president Tom Ellicott said it was regrettable Avondale were not playing in the 2024 competition. Ellicott though felt Avondale's decision in one sense did not make sense, given that the club has been around for a long time and has enjoyed immense success locally. "While we respect Avondale's decision to move on, it does not make a lot of sense given that the Points System and, amateur status overall ensures integrity, viability and stability of any club," he said. "It gives a club the ability to invest heavily in its operations, develop strategies for retention of players, and to attract people (both men and women) who want to play rugby in an amateur competition and not be pitched by professionals. "In effect, it gives balance." Nine clubs will play in a first and second-grade competition in 2024. The IDRU is set to release the competition draw in December. They also hope to make announcements about the women's competition, which is still under development, early in 2024. Ellicott said early indications were very positive seeing many clubs reporting strong interest in playing and volunteer numbers. "I think it's apparent that the clubs are doing everything they possibly can to keep rugby moving in the Illawarra and it has been so pleasing to see such a focused effort in what was a reset for Illawarra Rugby in 2023," he said. "Our volunteers, at any capacity, must be congratulated as do the players. Without them we don't have a game and, as you will appreciate, this is why we are prepared to take such strong steps to ensure that we continue to have a strong, viable and fair base for the competition moving forward."