Group 10 has lost its second premier league side in as many years following confirmation Cowra won't field a team in the top grade in 2021, the swoopers admitting the now "semi-professional" premiership has "moved beyond us at the moment".
The Magpies will compete in Group 10's lower grades - first division, under 18s and league tag - this season.
Cowra boss Marc McLeish said the move isn't a "sad day", nor is it a step back for the black and whites, instead he believes the decision to not field a premier league outfit is simply the realisation the club isn't able to consistently compete against some of the bigger entities in the Group 10 competition.
Cowra's population is just shy of 10,000 people, while Orange and Bathurst are both near the 40,000 mark. Lithgow (20,000) and Mudgee (12,000) are also reasonably sized, while Blayney punches above its weight with a population of over 3000 people.
"We are at a stage in the club's history where we are struggling to maintain a competitive or semi-competitive stance in a competition that has become semi-professional," McLeish said.
"While we've been holding our head above water the work involved in doing that is extremely tough."
He said the taxing nature of running a semi-professional club as a band of volunteers was tough to maintain, year-on-year.
While competing in the premier league competition in Group 10 was tough for the Magpies' Cowra-based talent.
We can go a local formula but we don't think that formula can sustain a competitive team in Group 10 first grade.Cowra boss Marc McLeish
When that's the case, McLeish says, players are drawn to second division clubs within the vicinity of the Cowra region - with Canowindra and Grenfell both competing in the near-by Woodbridge Cup competition.
The Magpies hosted Group 10 grand finals in 2014 and then again in 2018, but on both occasions expanded their player pool and imported a number of key men. The club also added several imports to its 2019 roster, but failed to fire a shot come the business end of the year.
For the 2021 season, McLeish said the current playing group was looking forward to simply enjoying their footy in what is Group 10's reserve grade competition.
"If they're not enjoying it then what's the point, I think a happy team and happy club creates better performances and a better atmosphere," he added.
McLeish said Cowra's prospects in Group 10's premier league were year-to-year.
"This is not the end of first grade footy in Cowra," he said, adding the club's junior base was a strong as any in Group 10.
However, retaining those juniors was another problem area.
"Unfortunately when they finish school they are faced with decisions that generally take them away from the town," he said.
"We don't have a university, we don't have a mine, we don't have the ability to keep the kids here.
"So we are developing wonderful young footballs, but not enough are sticking around to have a locally competitive team.
"The consensus out of club was that the wider rugby league community wanted us to go back to a majority local formula and our concerns with that have come true.
"We can go a local formula but we don't think that formula can sustain a competitive team in Group 10 first grade."
The Group 10 premier league competition had nine clubs in 2019, however with Oberon dropping out at the end of that season completely - the Tigers now contest what is essentially a third division mid-west competition - and now Cowra also opting out of the top tier the 2021 title race looks as though it'll be a race in seven.
Orange clubs CYMS and Hawks, Bathurst's St Pat's and Panthers - the two-time defending premiers - Mudgee, Lithgow and Blayney are set to field premier league sides, however, whether or not all of those clubs field sides in all of Group 10's four grades is yet to be determined.
McLeish said Cowra's decision was about sustainability for the black and whites.
"We haven't failed, we've made a decision to make what we have stronger rather than try and build something that's not up to strength," he said.
"We've already started talking to people about 2022 as far as captains and coaches go, it will be an ongoing process year to year."
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