Running any form of club is tough.
It's time consuming, takes you away from family, interrupts your working life and dominates your weekends.
A thankless job, at times, too.
Running a rugby league club in the west is all of those things, and more.
Last week the Cowra Magpies made it public they were weighing up, in the words of president Mark McLeish, "how or if we can keep up" with the demands of playing in Group 10 as the costs of running a club continued to mount.
Part of those costs relate to the outsourcing of players.
The Magpies boss says, given the level of competition Group 10 demands, paying players is a necessity to ensure the club remains both competitive on the field and relevant in the community.
"We have learned over a period of time that the crowds don't come to watch a team that is not competitive." McLeish told the Cowra Guardian last week.
Competitive is something the Magpies have been for a while now.
They made the 2014 and 2018 grand finals - hosting both - and qualified for this year's finals series in fifth, which you could consider disappointing with the list of players the Magpies boasted.
The 2019 Magpies were built to win. It just never happened.
And so with no title to fall back on in that time, the pressure continues to build. Questions begin to be asked. Meetings scheduled. Futures reconsidered.
Cowra is a proud rugby league town - that much is clear. Will not change either.
They belong in Group 10 and everything McLeish has said indicates remaining in that competition is the priority - giving the kids in the club's junior system the chance to play senior footy at the club another goal.
But, this column believes, the Magpies are considering a switch to the Woodbridge Cup as a possible solution moving forward.
We have learned over a period of time that the crowds don't come to watch a team that is not competitive.Magpies president Marc McLeish told the Cowra Guardian last week.
It can't happen.
From Royce Simmons to Shannon Boyd, the area has produced top quality players and seems to do so at a fairly consistent rate too.
Again, Cowra belongs in Group 10.
But the battles associated with running clubs in country areas means these sorts of conversations are a constant.
Remaining competitive is tough. Remaining at the very top near impossible, as the Magpies know well.
Cowra wouldn't be the only club in this boat either.
Does anyone think it's been easy for Blayney to turn up week-in, week-out for the last three seasons and win two games across both senior grades?
Up against bigger clubs in Orange and Bathurst, a combined population nearing 90,000, how on earth can Blayney compete with just 3000 people in town? A town servicing two clubs too, with the Blayney Rams playing their rugby union on Saturdays.
Simply, they can't. So they have to out-source players.
Oberon's in the same boat. How many of the club's 2017 grand final team lived in Oberon?
Less again in 2018, and the club finished fifth that year. The Tigers dropped down to seventh in 2019 as Josh Starling put more emphasis on local players than simply bringing in the best money could buy.
Paying players is something every club in the bush, in every Group competition.
It would probably surprise people to know most clubs spend upwards of $100,000 on teams annually. Decent players can earn $1000 a game.
And when you're forking out that sort of money year-on-year, and not winning trophies, you have to ask what Cowra is asking this Wednesday night: where to from here?
Here's one solution, and it's not foreign to the game: Why not introduce a salary cap?
Group 10 already adopts a points system in an effort to ensure a level of competitiveness across the board, but there's no cap on spending.
The points cap has been in place now for the last five or so seasons and across the last decade we've seen just about every club in the Group feature in at least one grand final.
But at some point the Group has to take the next step. And saving clubs from themselves is that step.
Group 10 can't afford to sit back and let clubs spend up big in an effort to win a title, only for them to then fade away for years on end when it doesn't eventuate.
The Farrer League and Riverina League Aussie Rules competitions run out of Wagga use both points and salary cap systems.
Why not do the same in Group 10?
It's clear the smaller clubs in the region feel the only way for them to match the success of some sides in bigger centres is to spend money on quality players.
So this isn't a Cowra issue. It has to be a competition-wide one.
Group 10 has to stand up and take some ownership or risk losing clubs that are essentially part of the fabric of the competition.
A salary cap, not one of those sombreros the Roosters use, is at least deserving of some consideration.
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