IT was one of the competitions most sorely missed during last year's COVID-19 restrictions but the Astley Cup will make its welcome return from Thursday next week.
Three-time defending champions Bathurst High School will celebrate the competition's return when they host Orange High School next week in the 98th edition of the inter-school sporting event.
Dubbo College is set to host its launch assembly next Monday before it gets in on the action the following weeks when it hosts the Bathurst team.
Bathurst High School Astley Cup co-ordinator Lachlan Blaikie said the competitive drive will naturally be present in the team, but there's extra emphasis on enjoying the atmosphere.
"It's exciting and it's busy times at the moment trying to get everything organised but it'll be a great experience," he said.
"I think we'll be under a bit of pressure this year to retain the cup but the main thing is enjoying the competition. Whatever the outcome is I'm sure they'll have fun.
"I think the competition will be stiffer this year."
Bathurst High will be looking to continue their dominant stretch over recent years.
Starting with their breakthrough success in 2010 - the school's first victory since 1989 - Bathurst High would go on to win six of the next nine editions of the cup.
Bathurst will be hunting their fourth successive title this year to try and maintain the greatest dynasty the school has experienced since the 50s (where they won six editions).
"We've been flat out and there hasn't been a whole lot of training going on," Blaikie said.
"We've got CHS fixtures going on at the moment that we're trying to keep up with. A couple of kids have got themselves traineeships, which is great because that gives them employment, but it means we've had to plug holes in various teams.
"A couple of kids have had injuries lately as well and others have made representative teams. Some of those players will miss the home round of the competition against Orange but the good news out of that is it gives others the opportunity to step up and take their place.
"Some of them may have a little lack of experience but that helps us for next year when they've had a bit of a taste of the competition.
"We've still got plenty of high quality players among those less experienced players coming through. It will be interesting to see how they hold up under the pressure of Astley Cup. It's a different type of game."
Many Bathurst High School Astley Cup team members were lucky enough to get extra game time through the recent Denison Cup.
Bathurst defended their title in the second edition of the competition against Kelso High School.