NINE years after the Oberon Tigers made their return to Group 10 Rugby League, the club has made the agonising decision to withdraw from the 2020 premier league competition.
Tigers officials informed Group 10 delegates at Sunday's annual general meeting that they did not have the playing numbers to contest the top grade next season and would instead explore playing in the Mid West New Era Cup competition.
In a bid to see them retain some presence in Group 10 rather than switching competitions entirely, the Tigers were given an option to remain with just reserve grade and league tag teams.
No deadline was set for Oberon to make decision on their participation, but re-elected Group 10 president Linore Zamparini said the Tigers are planning to hold a meeting within the next eight to 10 days.
The Group has given them the option that they can stay and play reserve grade and league tag. They are going to have a talk about that.Group 10 president Linore Zamparini
But in any case, the Tigers will not be playing in premier league.
"They want to go to New Era Cup, they think they can compete there, but the Group has given them the option that they can stay and play reserve grade and league tag. They are going to have a talk about that and see what they can do," he said.
"They had probably six or seven first graders move on that left them with a few good first graders, but certainly not enough to compete in the competition.
- MORE IN LEAGUE: PLAYERS ON THE MOVE | Group 10 and Group 11 signings for 2020
"It certainly wasn't an easy decision for them to make. They are very proud, very passionate and their record speaks for itself, they certainly didn't want that decision to have to be made.
"But they are being honest with themselves, they don't have the quality to go around in first grade. Look, at the end of the day if you go out there without that quality, you don't look good on the paddock and things certainly die away.
"It's just too hard, all you're doing then is just cruelling the guys who are trying to keep the club afloat. If they're getting smashed it's not good."
After captain-coaching the Tigers in 2019, Josh Starling was one of the big names not to sign on for next season. The former NRL enforcer initially planned to have 2020 off, but has since signed with Bathurst Panthers.
But he was not the only departure from this year's squad which led to Tigers officials having to make the difficult decision to withdraw from premier league and possibly Group 10 entirely, as the Mid West competition does have a league tag competition to cater for their female players.
The Tigers were one of Group 10's foundation clubs, playing in the inaugural season in 1948, and since then has won 11 first grade titles including seven straight between 1961 and 1967.
Oberon has previously had a stint in the Mid West competition during the 2000s, winning the 2003 premiership before re-joining Group 10 in 2012.
It took the Tigers more than a year to post their first win after returning - it came in 2013 when downing St Pat's 32-10 - and they finished that campaign in fifth.
Since then the Tigers have finished eighth (2014), last (2015), runners-up with a 23-22 loss to Orange CYMS in the 2017 grand final, fifth (2018) and this season won five of 17 games to place seventh.
While the Tigers have enjoyed strong support during that time - especially when former NRL prop George Rose played in season 2016 - getting juniors to filter through the ranks proved much tougher.
"The biggest issue they've got out there is that there's no juniors coming through, the juniors only go to under 10s and it is going to be awhile before they filter through to under 18s. It's a grassroots thing, everywhere struggles a bit I think, but particularly in smaller communities like Oberon, Blayney, Cowra, it's pretty tough," Zamparini said.
"There's a lot of tradition there, they're one of the grassroots clubs, they're one of the great clubs and when they came back in [to Group 10 in 2012] it certainly benefited everyone because they certainly got a crowd. The town gets behind them and they have support everywhere they go."
Meanwhile, despite talk the Mudgee Dragons would pursue a shift to Group 11, the club has elected to remain in Group 10 for season 2020.
Late last month Dragons president Sebastian Flack revealed he wanted his club to make the move and Group 11 officials were open to the idea.
But following a structural change with the state bodies - New South Wales Rugby League and Country Rugby League - Zamparini was not surprised the Dragons decided against pursuing a switch.
"It's not that easy to just say that you're going to pack your bags up and go somewhere else, there's a lot protocol, there's a lot of checks and crosses you've got to go through," he said.
"With the change only in the last couple of weeks of New South Wales and Country Rugby League amalgamating into New South Wales Rugby League, those guys have got to feel their way through things as well and I don't there would be changes in any Group at the moment, I don't think they would let that happen at the moment."
On a personal note, Zamparini is looking forward to another season at the helm of Group 10 after initially intending to stand down after more than a decade as president.
"I was going to step away this year, but they sort of talked me into staying another year. Look I've still got the passion, I still like it and I'm happy to give it a go," he said.
"The thing in my favour is that I don't really have an agenda, I'm just there for the rugby league, I love my rugby league. I think it will be 13 years I've done it now - it's a long time so I must be doing something right.
"In saying that a lot is thanks to the board, they've been a great committee over the years. We share the workload and we get the job done - there are no agendas, we just go in and do the job and what's best for our game of rugby league in the area."
WANT MORE ORANGE NEWS AND SPORT?
- Receive our free newsletters delivered to your inbox, as well as breaking news alerts. Sign up below ...