WITH less than a month before the opening bounce in the Central West AFL, the senior men's competition looks likely to lose Parkes from the premiership battle.
The Panthers, who placed fifth last season, are expected to withdraw from the senior competition due to lack of numbers.
It would leave seven teams to play for the flag, creating a general bye.
"We haven't had any formal notification from Parkes. We've had a couple of conversations, so at this stage it's not looking hopeful, but nothing is confirmed as to their state. I'd say it's unlikely,” Central West AFL chair Craig Gale said.
"It is very disappointing. Parkes are going to put a women's team in this year, so it looked like we were going to have a full compliment in the men's comp - apart from Mudgee - and then Dubbo, Cowra, Orange, the Bushrangers, Parkes and Young in the women's competition, which makes it so much better when you are trying to organise a draw.”
While Gale is unsure of the fate of Parkes, he is remaining positive.
The Bathurst Bushrangers will once more field two sides in the senior men’s competition, with Bathurst Giants, Dubbo Demons, Young Saints, Orange Tigers and defending premiers the Cowra Blues joining them.
It will mark the second season of a one-tier senior men’s competition, firsts and reserves having been merged in 2016 to strengthen the league.
"It took a bit of convincing, but at the end of the season everyone was happy,” Gale said of the move.
“Obviously Bathurst Bushrangers [Outlaws] would've liked to win the grand final and didn't quite get there. But overall there were five teams vying for spots in the finals and a real chance.
"Dubbo, for example, in the last round beat Cowra who won the premiership, that's how close the competition was, it was really good.”
Gale is also anticipating a good premiership battle this season, which will get underway on April 8.
"The Giants are now another season older and there are some players apparently coming back to Bathurst that they'll pick up,” he said.
“The Bushrangers have still got a very strong hub there, they'll have two very strong sides.”
At this stage Parkes are still included in the draw, so the opening round will feature the Bathurst Bushrangers Rebels and Outlaws squaring off, Orange will host the Bathurst Giants, Cowra begins its title defence with an away match in Dubbo and Young will meet Parkes.