THIS year's Group 10 Bathurst Panthers Knockout has been locked in for the earlier time slot of March 12 and 13.
The dates were confirmed during a Tuesday night meeting, and come at an earlier time to help Carrington Park recover in time for the May 1 NRL clash between the Penrith Panthers and Manly Sea Eagles.
Expectations in the lead up to the meeting were that a March 19 and 20 tournament looked the likely choice but Panthers president Dave Hotham said bringing the competition forward seven days will give ground staff extra breathing room for their NRL preparations.
"It's a week earlier than what we original thought. It all relates to the NRL game. We couldn't go back any further than that," he said.
"Pat's have their nines in the middle of February so it's going to be good to have a lot of football in the region again.
"It's great to have it all sorted. We've sent out our invitations to teams in the Group and I think it's going to be great to see football up and going again. Everyone's been missing it. The Group has been great in managing the situation the way they did.
"The guys have done a great job with Carrington Park, getting it to look the way it does every year for the NRL game.
"There's a lot of interest around that game too, after missing out on it last year, and everyone involved in getting it up a running deserves a lot of praise for how they've managed it."
Last year's Panthers Knockout was the last time Group 10 premier league teams took to the field in 2020 as the incoming COVID-19 pandemic brought the game to a standstill.
Now, after a full year of no senior league for the region's top players, Hotham is expecting the 2021 knockout to garner plenty of buzz.
He's hopeful of seeing some Mid West Cup sides joining in on the action.
"We had no rugby league played last year so it's exciting for everyone to have this all back, as well as the nines," he said.
"We'll hopefully see a couple of those teams outside of premier league join in. Oberon might want to put a side into reserve grade and we usually ask CSU if they want to send a team in."
This could be the last season of a Group 10-only pre-season knockout depending on what direction the game takes in 2022.
The proposed merger of Group 10 and 11 could lead to an expanded knockout tournament and, beyond that, the event could see teams from outside the region join in.
But Hotham said those sorts of plans aren't on the table just yet.
"That'll all depend on the future of the Group obviously, whether the two Groups combine. That's definitely something in the future that we could look at but that will all depend on what Group 10 want to do," he said.
Last year's decider was an exciting all-Orange clash between CYMS and Hawks, where the former made a comeback to claim a 13-12 victory.
The Pat's Nines will be the first taste of match time, running on February 13.