With restricted crowds throughout the 2020 seasons, Central West Rugby Union chief executive officer Matt Tink was over the moon to witness supporters streaming through gates as the code's various competitions kicked off in the last fortnight.
With substantially eased restrictions in place for outdoor community sports, like rugby, spectators have flocked to grounds across the Central West and particularly as the top tier, Blowes Clothing Cup season began on Saturday.
With COVID safe protocols in place and being followed as necessary, Mr Tink said the governing body couldn't have asked for better attendance over the past two weekends - the lower tier competitions began the week prior.
I think once the opportunity to go out and watch live sport was restricted people realised how good it is actually is.Central West Rugby Union CEO Matt Tink
Other sports which have also kicked off already have welcomed strong crowds too, which bodes well for organisations like Group 10 Rugby League and Orange Netball Association with their seasons starting this weekend.
The latter sport has already seen a big crowd land at PCYC for the Super Netball pre-season game earlier this year, while there was also a huge crowd on hand at Towac Park for the Orange Gold Cup last week as well.
Athough, some sports' protocols will be different depending on their definitions under the NSW Government's restrictions, based largely on whether they are held indoors or outdoors and the venue itself.
"It's been fantastic across the whole region," Mr Tink said.
"We had the restrictions last year, obviously, but the crowds were still quite strong as we followed those restrictions. Definitely, I think once the opportunity to go out and watch live sport was restricted people realised how good it is actually is.
"The relaxed restrictions definitely help the clubs too because it takes a bit of pressure off the volunteers but they are still doing everything they need in line with guidance. Our clubs were great through the restrictions and that hasn't changed.
"In general, I think there's just a really strong desire to watch live sport and get the ground, so I think that will be the same for other codes and sports as well."
Mr Tink reserved particular praise for Orange City Rugby Club, which hosted its annual Ladies' Day event last weekend and welcomed a massive crowd for it, reportedly around 200 tickets were sold for those celebrations.
The crowd itself was much larger as the Lions' opened their 2021 campaign against Dubbo Kangaroos, which Mr Tink said was 'a great afternoon' at Pride Park.
"Orange City put on a real show, it was a great afternoon and the rugby really delivered for the crowd," he said, the Lions produced a remarkable comeback to win the top grade.
"They had a number of marquees up, they had the music going, people were lined up around the ground and it was a really good atmosphere.
"I was up there after I started the day at Yeoval and there was a good crowd there too. I finished the day at Bathurst to watch Bulldogs' game against Orange Emus, and the crowd there was big enough that they, apparently, sold out of food and alcohol."
Mr Tink said he fully expects crowd numbers to remain strong throughout the season, assuming restrictions do not tighten again, and said they didn't appear to be impacted at all by the governing body's new live streaming deal with Cluch.
"Once the weather cools down a bit I think you're always going to lose a few, but I think the supporters will continue coming to grounds to support the sport, I'd definitely expect that to be the same with other winter sports too," he said.
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