LEETON Phantoms coach Quinten Longhurst says the club needs some time to work hard on improving its depth after it was forced to withdraw its first grade side from the rest of the Southern Inland season.
The Phantoms will still field a reserve grade side, but club officials said the fact first grade and reserves remain winless through eight rounds left them little option but to take time out to consolidate.
Longhurst said work commitments, illness and injuries meant 19 players were unavailable for their last game. The agreement with Deniliquin for some of their players to represent the Phantoms, after they went into recess this year, hasn't boosted their depth as much as hoped for similar reasons.
All Leeton games in the first grade schedule will now become byes for their opposition.
Longhurst conceded they need to focus on bringing in some fresh blood if they are a chance to return to first grade next year.
The Phantoms were given dispensation to only play third grade in the men's competition last season, but they have lost first grade games by an average of nearly 45 points this year.
"It's a battle to get the same people on the park and you can't rely on the same faces all the time," Longhurst said.
"Whether that's getting players from in town or out of town, we have to work hard on building that depth.
"People might see it as a negative, but we need to make it a positive. We have a handful of young players playing up in second grade, we want to nurture them and help Deni (Deniliquin) get back on the field as well."
Phantoms president Ian Pascoe said a big number of players were forced to feature in both grades this season, and it would be foolish to throw their young talent into first grade before they're ready.
"The zone has been great in getting junior dispensation to play first grade if they're good enough, but the reality is we don't want to blood them too soon and we want a pathway for the boys to come through," Pascoe said.
"It's safety first for them. We can't throw boys in against men, it's not fair on them.
"At least in seconds we can be more competitive, and the fact the guys don't have to back up and play two games (will help).
"I know it's a pain for the other clubs to have a bye in the first grade draw, but I don't think there was any way they could work around that."
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