QUARTER-FINALISTS last season, Bathurst Panthers will face Cootamundra in the kick-off to the Country Challenge Cup at Bathurst's Carrington Park in February next year.
Joining Panthers for the first time in the competition will be Group 10 premiers St Pat's, who will go straight through to the second round and play the winner of the Turvey Park-West Belconnen tussle.
Created to satisfy clubs’ needs for state-wide competition, the event has drawn a field of 52 clubs.
Country Rugby League general manager David Barnhill said clubs ;grabbed’ the opportunity to compete against teams outside their local competition.
Barnhill said the event would continue to give the code exposure.
"I am confident the four quarters of 20 minutes will ensure the players can go the distance in the early season and four-quarter football is recognised as a great equaliser, especially with unlimited replacements," he said.
The standard of competition this year is expected to be even higher with 12 of the clubs entered winning their Group premierships in 2001.
"The standard of play will be extremely high as the top clubs in the State go head-to-head," Barnhill said.
Barnhill said the CRL has allocated a budget, including prizemoney of $20,000 to the winner of the tournament, as well as money for travel, accommodation, coach hire and referees' fees.
In other round one games Group 10 grand finalists Mudgee will host Narrabri while Group 11 side Dubbo CYMS will play Gungahlin.
Cobar is drawn to start in the second round of the competition.
The Challenge Cup will be launched at Mudgee on Friday, February 22, continuing for seven weekends, with the final scheduled for April.