The tone will be set early in the 2019 Group 11 season with some mouth-watering early matches emerging from the newly-released draw.
Group 11 secretary Paul Loxley said there will be one or two minor changes made to the draw which was released this week, but added fans will get an idea of who the real contenders are right from the opening whistle.
The new season is set to start on the weekend of April 28 next year with defending premiers Forbes playing host to a new-look Nyngan side led by former NRL player Justin Carney, while Dubbo CYMS’ first campaign under the leadership of Jarryn Powyer starts with a match against the club’s fierce foes, Wellington.
The final match of the opening round sees Dubbo Westside welcome the Parkes Spacemen to No. 1 Oval.
“It sets the tone and we’ll see what teams have got right from the start,” Loxley said of the eye-catching opening round.
The season will again feature 14 rounds, with one general bye to be shifted to the weekend of May 19.
As a prelude to the St George Illawarra and Newcastle Knights game at Mudgee that day, Group 11 and Group 10 representative sides will play-off for Western supremacy, again, in front of what should be a bumper crowd at Glen Willow.
In terms of other highlights of the draw, two matches will be played on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
We’ll see what teams have got right from the start.Group 11's Paul Loxley
That date had always been purely for the massive derby clash between Parkes and Forbes but 2019 will see Nyngan and Macquarie also play that Sunday.
The finals series will start the weekend of August 17 with grand final day to be on September 1.
Loxley added he was expecting one or two more requests or tweaks from clubs in terms of swapping home and away dates before the draw is made official.
There has been plenty of changes during the Group 11 off-season with every club but Forbes going into 2019 with some kind of change in its first grade coaching structure.
The most notable is the departure of Tim Ryan after six years as coach of Dubbo CYMS, with tireless prop Powyer taking over as captain-coach.
Justin Carney, home after a six-year stint in the English Super League, is now the captain-coach at Nyngan while former Spaceman Brent Wood is back in Parkes and taking over as coach.
In Wellington, Justin Toomey-White has stepped up to coach alongside Aidan Ryan while there is no more Claude Gordon at Westside after he signed with Cowra in Group 10.
The changes, and a number of big signings, has many already anticipating an extremely open competition.
“That’s the hope. Let’s really hope that’s what happens,” Loxley added.
Pre-season competition will start with the Parkes Nines on March 31, with three weekends of trial matches to follow.