The withdrawal of two teams has resulted in changes being made to the western-wide rugby league draws for 2023.
With the opening match of the season between Mudgee and Forbes - the curtain-raiser for the Manly-Newcastle NRL match at Glen Willow - less than a week away, it has been confirmed the Wellington Cowboys' under 18s side has pulled out of the competition due to a lack of players.
It comes after the Cowra Magpies' first grade side was withdrawn from the Peter McDonald Premiership due to a lack of competitive players last month.
The draw for the Peter McDonald Premiership (PMP), the Tom Nelson under 18s competition and both the league tag and reserve grade competitions have been changed as a result.
One of the major changes comes in round one, when Nyngan will now travel to Bathurst to take on St Pat's after originally being drawn to play Cowra.
A tweak to the round two draw was music to the ears of Dubbo CYMS, who will now make the trip to Lithgow in April rather than the middle of winter as originally pencilled in.
A number of other matches have also been shifted around due to the lack of a Cowra first grade side but NSW Rugby League regional manager Tim Del Guzzo said the the placement of the season's blockbuster contests is unaffected.
"The draw will still have the headline match ups of the previous draw, such as Mudgee versus Forbes in round one, (Bathurst) Panthers versus St Pat's before the (Penrith) Panthers game, Forbes versus Orange CYMS in round two, Orange CYMS versus Dubbo CYMS in round eight and Mudgee versus Dubbo CYMS in round nine," he said.
"The process of creating a new draw began as soon as Cowra informed the PMP board that they weren't willing to field a first grade side. The new draw has had its challenges, not least of which were the time pressures involved in getting it together before this Saturday's opening round.
"However, the process was able to flow pretty well with both the Group 10 and Group 11 boards committing from the start to do whatever they could to help Cowra through a tricky situation.
"Pleasingly, we were able to accommodate Cowra's lower grades as well as stick to the four grade structure that was preferred by all clubs."
The clash between Nyngan and St Pat's - the only changed fixture in round one - will mean an immediate clash between last year's under 18s grand finalists.
Nyngan's young Tigers scored a drought-breaking premiership win for the club that day.
Like Nyngan, Cowra is one of the smaller towns in the PMP and the quality needed to compete at the required level proved too much for the club this year.
Despite the withdrawal, Del Guzzo was optimistic about Cowra's future.
"Cowra's withdrawal was largely to do with the overall quality of their first grade squad and not to do with lack of players. The Cowra committee were convinced that their young squad weren't up to a full season of the rigours of PMP football and saw withdrawal from first grade as more of a duty of care thing," he said.
"A couple of other things to keep in mind are that with the dawn of the PMP and the lifting of standards in the major competition there was always going to be some clubs that felt their place was in a second division competition that was more akin to the former Group competitions.
"Cowra are wrestling with that possible reality at the moment. They are not lost and won't be. The Cowra Magpies are a proud club that will not only bounce back, they will have a great season in reserve grade, league tag and under 18s."
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