Group 10 released its 2020 draw this week, revealing Orange CYMS will face two-time defending champions Bathurst Panthers in a massive curtain-raiser to Penrith's NRL showdown against Cronulla at Carrington Park this year.
Dan Mortimer's CYMS side will tackle Panthers on Sunday, May 10 in round four, following their season-opening games against Blayney, Lithgow Workies and Cowra, and it will mark a return to Carrington Park for the green and golds' mentor in more ways than one.
Of course he played a bucketload of his junior career at the Bathurst ground but he also fronted for the Gold Coast Titans when they took on Penrith at Carrington Park back in 2015, although his side was hammered 40-nil.
"That'll probably be a pretty good hit-out for Mortimer, he'll have a few games to find his feet before that. It should be a pretty good game in general, Panthers have obviously done really well to go back-to-back and they've brought in some great players like (ex-NRL and Oberon prop) Josh Starling," Group 10 president Linore Zamparini said.
The 2020 season will kick-off on the Easter weekend and a number of sides have requested to play on Good Friday too, making for a blockbuster opening round that will be followed by the returning All Stars weekend the week after.
In 2018 the decision was made to play the All Stars game every second year rather than annually and while the finer details of the make-up of each side is yet to be finalised it will bring a general bye too, making for a massive build-up.
"Having a general bye on that weekend does give the chance to make a really big show of it but it also eases some pressure on clubs and that hopefully translates to more players, the best players, being available," Zamparini said.
"We're still working out the exact details of the game but it will definitely have the usual Indigenous celebration and it should once again be a really great game, the [most recent editions] have been excellent and there's a lot of pride around the game.
[All Stars weekend] should ... be really great, the [most recent editions] have been excellent and there's a lot of pride around the game.Group 10 chairman Linore Zamparini
There was actually discussion around Group 10's best Indigenous players taking on their Group 11 counterparts this year, however that didn't come to fruition.
The two Groups' best will once again face-off in their usual representative showdown though which will 'definitely be played in May' although the exact date is still to be confirmed, at Orange.
The two dates being tossed up for the representative fixtures, which are expected to also include league tag and under-18 encounters, are May 16 and 23. Should they be played on the former date a general bye would expected then as well.
"We didn't want to start the season too early but we also wanted it finishing around the same time so playing those [representative fixtures] with general byes would stretch things out a little bit but as I said, it eases pressure on the clubs," Zamparini said.
In terms of the season proper's biggest games Panthers and Mudgee will face-off in an epic, 2019 grand final rematch to open the season, the grudge match will once again be played at Carrington Park as the decider was last September.
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"Panthers are obviously going for three premierships in a row now and they're looking very strong but Mudgee will have unfinished business, they'll be back bigger and better I think and that will be a great way to start the season for those clubs," Zamparini said.
Panthers then face St Pat's in the first all-Bathurst derby in round two making for a whopping opening fortnight for the defending premiers, while CYMS play Lithgow in their typical grudge match and Hawks take on Mudgee in a rematch of last year's preliminary final in round two as well.
The first all-Orange derby of 2020 is scheduled for round four and will be CYMS' home game before Hawks act as hosts in round 13, the penultimate game of the season. With Oberon's withdrawal, there's 14 regular season rounds as opposed to 18.
"CYMS are looking pretty strong and so are Hawks, Lithgow seem to have bought well and St Pat's have too so it's looking like another good year," Zamparini said.
"Last year we had to wait until the final round for the top five to be locked in so who knows, that could happen again this season.
"It's disappointing with Oberon but it didn't impact (constructing the draw) much, eight or nine times doesn't really make a difference because there's still the same number of grounds and referees needed.
"They're down in the [New Era Cup] and looking to stay alive there and build, so hopefully they do well."
The 2020 grand final is set to be played on Sunday, September 6, which could deliver the ultimate Father's Day present for some.
GROUP 10 2020
ROUND ONE (EASTER WEEKEND)
- BATHURST PANTHERS v MUDGEE DRAGONS at Carrington Park, Bathurst
- BLAYNEY BEARS v ORANGE CYMS at King George Oval, Blayney
- ORANGE HAWKS v COWRA MAGPIES at Wade Park, Orange
- LITHGOW WORKIES v BATHURST ST PAT'S at Tony Luchetti Sportground, Lithgow
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