AFTER weeks of speculation, Group Seven will allow the Milton-Ulladulla Bulldogs club to play reserve grade for the remainder of the 2019 season.
At a general Group Seven meeting at the Shoalhaven Ex-Servicemens Club on Wednesday evening, the Bulldogs presented the other 15 clubs in attendance with a report outlining their desire to remove themselves from the 10-team first grade competition and just play in reserve grade.
"The report provided by the Bulldogs club, which was issued to each club on their arrival, listed every player that had played grade football for the club over the past three years and where they are now - a list we crosschecked thoroughly," Group Seven operations manager Peter Mehl said.
"As it currently stands, they have just 22 players left on the men's books, which is nowhere enough to run two sides."
After lengthy discussions, all the clubs agreed the best decision for the Bulldogs club was to finish the 2019 season in reserve grade.
"Although I was a little resistant to have them go back at first, you have to look at the long-term future of the club," Mehl said.
"If they stayed in first grade, they are more than likely going to have some heavy defeats, which might have led to them losing more numbers.
"We are happy and agree with the decision made by all the clubs and as such, we don't think it presents a dangerous precedent moving forward."
Mehl, who quashed fears that this decision would lead to Milton-Ulladulla stacking their reserve grade side, explained the plan was for the Bill Andriske Oval based club to return to first grade in 2020, which will be outlined in the Bulldogs five-year plan, to be presented to the Group Seven board at the annual general meeting.
"The Bulldogs club are in a solid financial position and this decision is only for the remainder of this season, with me assuming they'll be back in the top grade at the start of the 2020 season," Mehl said.
Bulldogs club secretary Sharon Dowton agreed this move was the best for the club moving forward.
"As previously reported, the club is currently low on player numbers due to season ending injuries, work commitments and departing players - which saw us seek a special one off permission allowing us to withdraw our first grade team for the remainder of the season," Dowton said.
"We would like to thank all involved in Wednesday night's decision for their understanding and support."
Along with the reserve grade side, the club will also continue to participate in the Group Seven under 18s and women's league tag one competitions in 2019, as well as their under 18 girls tackle team, that plays in the Illawarra competition.
"These four teams are comprised of local players who are all devoted to the future of the Doggies and will continue to wear the jersey with pride and do their best for the club, its sponsors, supporters and community.
"The club will continue to work along with NRL Development and Group Seven with the aim of returning to first grade next season."
Dowton thanked all the club's players, sponsors and fans for their support over the difficult past couple of weeks.
"The committee is committed to ensuring the future of the Doggies and providing a solid viable senior club for our current players as well as the vast number of junior players we having coming through in the years to come," she said.