There will be no easing into things for Peter McDonald Premiership champions Forbes after the Magpies were handed a hugely challenging set of fixtures to start the 2023 season.
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The draw for this year - one that will include all four grades in western-wide competition for the first time - is yet to be rubber-stamped and released officially but some highlights have been revealed.
As well as a testing start for Forbes - who defeated Dubbo CYMS in last year's inaugural Peter McDonald Premiership grand final - this season is set to feature two NRL curtain-raisers and plenty of blockbuster derby matches.
The action will start on Saturday, April 1 when Forbes travels to Mudgee to take on the Dragons in what will be a curtain-raiser to the NRL clash between Manly and Newcastle at Glen Willow Stadium.
"Before the NRL game in round one Mudgee will play Forbes, so the best teams in Group 10 and Group 11 from last year will play," NSW Rugby League regional manager for Western, Tim Del Guzzo, said.
"The grand final rematch will then be round three at Dubbo.
"So Forbes have got a big month to start with, they get Mudgee, Orange CYMS and Dubbo CYMS, three big games in a row, then they play Parkes, they get a local derby."
While still waiting for official confirmation it can be part of the game day schedule, it is also planned to have the first Bathurst Panthers versus St Pat's clash of 2023 as an NRL curtain-raiser.
In what will double as the annual ANZAC Day Rugby League Memorial Trophy match, it's planned that first grade Peter McDonald Premiership game will be played at Carrington Park on April 29 prior to the Penrith Panthers' clash with the West Tigers.
The under 18s, women's league tag and reserve grade fixtures between the Panthers and Saints have been pencilled in for April 28.
"There is planned there will be a Friday night festival at Jack Arrow the night before with the lower grades, then having the first grade game before the NRL match on Saturday," Del Guzzo said.
As for the Orange Hawks-Orange CYMS and Dubbo Macquarie-Dubbo CYMS derbies, they will be played in round six.
While having to factor in reserve grade and league tag games this season to accompany Peter McDonald Premiership (first grade) and Tom Nelson Shield (under 18s) matches, Del Guzzo said clubs are happy with the draft draw they were presented with prior to Christmas.
It will be a 16-round competition with teams playing 14 games - seven on their home turf and seven away.
As was the case in the 2022 Peter McDonald and Tom Nelson Shield draw, cross-over matches between Group 10 and Group 11 based clubs are once more included.
"It was probably easier [doing this draw] than the first one because someone did the 64 drafts the first time around. I did run into some of the problems they ran into, just sort of the parameters around it," Del Guzzo said.
"Not playing each other once, you've only got a certain amount of cross-over games, you've got to be mindful of the travel, like Nyngan playing Lithgow, you can't just pull them out of a hat.
"There was some cross-over games we had to switch around from last year, but we've tried to just do the return journeys. We had to change it up a little bit because Blayney are in it now.
"They've got to play a cross-over game against Forbes through the year to make the draw work and they're happy to do that."
While clubs across the Western region are now awaiting the official release of the draw, Del Guzzo already sees 2023 as a big step forward.
He also hinted that there will be further evolution of the four-grade premiership in the years to come.
"I've got to say there were a lot of positives to come out of last year, mainly people's attitudes towards it. So I guess getting the draw done right and early was my goal," he said.
"This is where we wanted to get to, the next progression is we just play teams in through the draw, there are no cross-over rounds, it's just the one competition where all teams play each other once or twice.
"That's the next step, but we've made some big strides getting it to be for all the grades. That's the goal and we've achieved that."
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