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COVID-19 delays matches across the Central West

NO PLAY: Big names are playing the coronavirus waiting game as COVID-19 shut downs and cancellations continue.
NO PLAY: Big names are playing the coronavirus waiting game as COVID-19 shut downs and cancellations continue.

There's no doubt that coronavirus has affected every part of our lives. How we work and how we meet with friends has changed, along with how we do everyday things like shopping. It's also changed our sport.

Sport all across Australia - except for horse and greyhound racing - has been temporarily suspended. But there's a big concern for the region's Group 10 clubs. Some will struggle financially without the backing of their sponsors and some may not survive.

WITH an off-season of massive signings, this year's Group 10 premier league season was meant to be full of big stories.

Now the new Group 10 signings will have to wait until they get a run with their new clubs as the coronavirus affects competitions as diverse as the NBA, Premier League, the Olympics, the NRL and even local lawn bowls.

"It is very disappointing. Those clubs have bought well and bought plenty," Group 10 president Linore Zamparini said.

"Everyone is in the same position and hopefully those guys won't mind sitting on the fence until things get better.

Group 10 president Linore Zamparini

Group 10 president Linore Zamparini

"Hopefully, when we get moving again, they can give it their all with their clubs."

Some of those new signings who were meant to be in action in April included Josh Starling and Jeremy Gordon at Bathurst Panthers, a club looking for a third consecutive premiership - a feat no team has accomplished since Oberon from 1969-71.

St Pat's, looking to rebuild after some disappointing recent seasons without finals football, went on a signing spree, recruiting Oberon trio Blake Fitzpatrick, Abel Lefaoseu and Jackson Brien, former junior Luke Single, ex-Cowra back Lee McClintock and Kiwi trio Logan Afoa, Haze Reweti and Taumutu Nohotima.

And then there were the struggling Blayney Bears, who had a miserable off-season.

Siosaia Vave joined from St Marys, only for him to claim his sign-on fee and effectively do a "runner", according to club president Damon Taylor.

The Bears have moved on quickly, though, with former Wests Tigers backrower Kyle Lovett looking to fill the gap.

ACTION: Bathurst Panthers clash with Mudgee Dragons in a fiery match.

ACTION: Bathurst Panthers clash with Mudgee Dragons in a fiery match.

Ex-NRL and Super League player Harry Siejka has landed in Mudgee, alongside Clay Priest. The Dragons lost last year's premier league decider in an extra-time thriller and after potentially making the switch to Group 11 in the off-season, Mudgee will be looking to go one better in 2020.

And Daniel Mortimer, who played a part in the Parramatta Eels almost ending their long premiership drought back in 2009, has landed in Orange CYMS for the 2020 season from Currumbin and the club's faithful will be hoping he'll lead the club to success in a similar manner to Mick Sullivan.

Zamparini said the postponement and potential suspension of the entire season will hurt the Group 10 clubs more than the NRL clubs.

"Our clubs run on a shoestring budget and they heavily rely on the [leagues] clubs and hotels for sponsorship," he said.

"At the moment they [clubs and hotels] are closed, the cafes are closed and the restaurants are closed. They'll do it pretty tough.

"All the small businesses within the region, they all have a part to play in helping out their rugby league club. Most clubs will have 20 to 30 sponsors.

ACTION: Orange Hawks break away from its city rivals CYMS to win last year's minor premiership.

ACTION: Orange Hawks break away from its city rivals CYMS to win last year's minor premiership.

"Everyone is doing it that tough. There's going to be mass unemployment. All the business is shutting down and the money won't be there."

Zamparini didn't sugarcoat it - he believes some clubs will struggle to survive if the whole season is cancelled.

But clubs folding would be a last resort.

"We hope not," he said about that possibility.

"The thing is, our clubs are very resilient and if they can find a way, they'll get through.

"All the clubs get on pretty well and they'll help out where they can to help survive and stay in the competition."

Hopeful of some form of a season

ACTION: St Pat's back Mick Latu.

ACTION: St Pat's back Mick Latu.

GROUP 11 and Woodbridge Cup officials are remaining positive the NSW Rugby League and National Rugby League decision to suspend grassroots football to prevent the spread of coronavirus will end by the start of May.

Seven teams (Dubbo CYMS, Dubbo Macquarie, Forbes Magpies, Narromine Jets, Nyngan Tigers, Parkes Spacemen and Wellington Cowboys) compete in Group 11, while the Woodbridge Cup draws its 10 teams (Burrangong Bears, Canowindra Tigers, Cargo Blue Heelers, Condobolin Rams, Eugowra Golden Eagles, Grenfell Goannas, Manildra Rhinos, Molong Bulls, Peak Hill Roosters and Trundle Boomers) from much smaller communities.

The Group 11 competition wasn't meant to start until April 26 and, if nothing changes, Group 11 is "optimistic" about making up the opening round matches.

Even if games don't start until late May, Group 11 secretary Paul Loxley said the competition can handle being pushed back by a month.

"That's what we're hoping for," he said.

"We might not be able to do a few other things, but hopefully we could play the representative game against Group 10 and the Indigenous game. We can just decide to put them on a particular Saturday once we revise our draws.

We'll just remain positive that we will get a game of footy, hopefully the full two rounds, the whole competition. That would be the best scenario for us.

Group 11 secretary Paul Loxley

"We'll just remain positive that we will get a game of footy, hopefully the full two rounds, the whole competition. That would be the best scenario for us.

"If we don't get that, I'm hoping we'll get to play some football if it was only a round plus semis."

Loxley believes the Group 11 clubs won't be too hard hit financially because they aren't spending big on players.

Woodbridge Cup president Andrew Pull.

Woodbridge Cup president Andrew Pull.

In Woodbridge Cup, meanwhile, it's rare for teams to pay players.

"Long term the clubs will be okay, but it's the businesses in towns in the smaller communities that will struggle," Woodbridge Cup president Andrew Pull said.

"When you have a big day at the canteen, all the food comes from the local bakery or the local supermarket. That's going to be the real pain."

Rugby league is also the biggest social event for a lot of communities, he said.

"That's one reason the competition is so popular and thriving: the whole community in each town gets behind it," he said. "I'm hoping that when the competition returns this year, the crowds will be setting some records because everyone will be missing their footy."

Bumper crop of clubs in limbo

THE 2020 season was meant to have heralded a new era for the Mid-West Cup competition.

Mid-West Cup president Dallas Booth.

Mid-West Cup president Dallas Booth.

Only four teams - CSU Mungoes, Lithgow Bears, Portland Colts and Orange Barbarians - competed last year, but there's been a boom in popularity in Group 10's second division competition for 2020.

Blackheath Blackcats and Kandos Waratahs have been resurrected, Oberon Tigers have dropped from Group 10 premier league and newly-formed Orange United have entered the rejuvenated competition.

The competition has been curtailed by coronavirus, however.

Mid-West Cup president Dallas Booth believes the clubs will survive.

"Player payments are a minimum in this comp and your spendings are much smaller than every Group 10 club, who buy players, have four teams to buy jerseys for and find sponsors for," he said.

Booth believes not many Mid-West players would be paid.

"I can't speak for every club, but I know for a fact that no players are getting paid at Oberon," he said.

"Last year when I was at Portland, no players were getting paid there."

Player payments are a minimum in this comp and your spendings are much smaller than every Group 10 club, who buy players, have four teams to buy jerseys for and find sponsors for.

Mid-West Cup president Dallas Booth

Booth is hopeful the sponsors for the clubs in the Mid-West Cup - which was meant to begin on the weekend of April 18 and 19 - will stick around.

"A lot of the sponsors are purely sponsoring to help the clubs out and support their local team," he said.

Despite the suspension of the competition, Booth understands it is for the best.

"As much as we love our footy and as much as we hope we'll get to a point when the comp can kick off, there's bigger things in the world to worry about at the moment," he said.

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This story Big names in Group 10 are playing the coronavirus waiting game first appeared on Lithgow Mercury.