TWELVE months after the Mid West New Era Cup competition came perilously close to folding, it is poised for one of its best seasons in recent times.
Following the league's annual general meeting, returning president Dallas Booth has confirmed that eight clubs - and possibly nine - will contest the 2020 premiership.
Blackheath, which withdrew following its 2018 title-winning campaign, has got the numbers to return, as has Kandos. The Oberon Tigers have dropped back from Group 10 and the Orange United Sports Club is set to make its debut.
Those four clubs will join CSU, Orange Barbarians, Portland Colts and Lithgow Bears who contested the 2019 competition.
Booth said while he had anticipated some growth and was hoping for a six-club competition in 2020, he never foresaw expansion like this.
"There was a real chance the comp was going to shut down this year, there were only four teams. The four teams that were remaining did have a meeting together and it was discussed that if we did shut the comp down, it would be very, very hard for it to come back," Booth said.
"We did say teams like Blackheath and Kandos should be able to recover in 12 months and get a team together ... we were hoping we'd get a six team comp the following year.
"But with news about the new Orange side, Orange United Sports Club, that's awesome. Oberon it's a bit of a shame they're not in Group 10, but now they're really excited to be able to play in a comp where all the local boys will be having a run together. They don't have to outlay that cost of getting a side together to be competitive in Group 10.
"Lithgow Shamrocks have also nominated a team, there are a couple of issues at the moment with their team, but that will get resolved one way or the other.
"So at this stage there are eight teams and quite possibly nine."
READ MORE: Panthers duo shine for NSW Country under 18s
Booth is hopeful that final number will be nine, saying Shamrocks have "answered every question they've needed to and been very open about it".
He said it is up to Group 10, which governs the Mid West competition, to consider Shamrocks' submission and make a final ruling. The Lithgow club, which formed in 1966 and won three Group 10 premierships in the 1980s, disbanded in 2000.
"They've done everything they need to to get in," Booth said.
"There are obviously some issues with Lithgow being a smaller town, whether or not another team is viable there. One of the issues is how it will effect Lithgow Workies and Bears, the other issue is the field.
"They have come up with resolutions that they believe will not hamper those sides and still allow them to be in the competition. It's been forwarded on to Group 10 "
While playing rosters are yet to be finalised, Booth feels it will be a competitive premiership.
He points to defending premiers CSU as the favourites ahead of 2019 grand finalists Orange Barbarians.
"CSU they're young, they're fit, they've got some good footballers, so they'll 100 percent be the team to beat," Booth said.
"But take nothing away from Barbarians, they've got an incredible back line and some big forwards. There was a reason why they were the two best teams in the comp last year.
"Blackheath, Kandos, they are always strong when they are in the comp, but obviously we don't know much about their players yet. From what I can see it's going to be a very strong comp, a very competitive comp.
"There are a lot of ex-first graders playing. There are blokes like myself who are too long in the tooth now, but still enjoy footy and are too stubborn to retire, then there are younger players as well who might not quite be good enough to play premier league or don't want to travel.
"You also have blokes who just want to play footy on Saturday afternoon and enjoy a beer and don't want the stress of playing premier league. That's what this comp caters for, there are a lot of good footballers there who don't want that stress."
You only have to hear some of the things from the crowd to know how passionate they are.Dallas Booth
It is not just the competitive nature of the teams, but the passion of the fans which Booth thinks will ensure the continued survival of the Mid West competition.
"You only have to hear some of the things from the crowd to know how passionate they are. Lithgow Bears have one of the most passionate group of supporters that follow them everywhere, Orange they love their footy and would come out and watch anyone play footy and I'm sure their new team will have a very good supporter base as well," he said.
"Uni, you play a home game against them and the whole uni comes to watch, they get right behind their team as well. I coached Portland last year and they were the same, the whole town turned out to watch.
"As far as passion goes, it's certainly right up there."
While Booth returns as president, Wayne Morgan was elected as the league's vice-president, Lauren Stevens as secretary and Craig Parsons treasurer.