After being starved of rugby league for the past 18 months, Bengalla Hunter Valley Group 21 returned with a vengeance at the weekend.
But, the COVID-19 hiatus also came at a cost, with only three clubs fielding under-18 sides in 2021, which would be a major concern for NSWRL officials moving forward.
Five organisations will take the field in first grade this year, with eight outfits (Aberdeen Tigers, Denman Devils, Greta Branxton Colts, Merriwa Magpies, Murrurundi Mavericks, Muswellbrook Rams, Scone Thoroughbreds and Singleton Greyhounds) contesting the reserves – the biggest division in the region.
In the seniors, despite losing captain-coach Jake Hawkins in the off-season, the Greyhounds pushed that setback to the side and accounted for the Devils 20-12.
Debutant Michael West and experienced campaigner Luke Gardner posted opening half tries, while Brayden Turnbull crossed after the break.
It capped off a great day for Singleton, claiming the “seconds” and Monarch blues tag fixtures as well.
In the other feature clash, the Tigers overpowered the gallant Rams 34-12.
Aberdeen led 10-8 at the interval, courtesy of four-pointers to Matt Hay and Kyle Smith.
And, they went on with the job against an injury-ravaged Muswellbrook.
While Lennie Craft gave the Rams some hope, at 14-12, the Tigers poured on the tries, with Hay and Smith bagging doubles, and Connor Brown, Dave Murnane, Harry Douglass and captain-coach Daniel Hoogerwerf diving over, too.
Another pleasing aspect of Aberdeen’s victory was the maiden appearances of young guns Hugh Collins, Brown, Jayden Harshman, Josh Moffitt, Smith, Hay and Adam Swadling.
Two-time Group 21 defending premiers, the Thoroughbreds, enjoyed a bye.
Scone will kick off its quest at Pirtek Park on Sunday 9 May when it tackles hosts Singleton in four showdowns from 10.20am.
Bengalla Hunter Valley Group 21 Rugby League
Round one results:
Singleton Greyhounds d Denman Devils 20-12
Aberdeen Tigers d Muswellbrook Rams 34-12
Bye: Scone Thoroughbreds
Singleton Greyhounds d Denman Devils 50-10
Aberdeen Tigers d Muswellbrook Rams 34-4
Merriwa Magpies d Murrurundi Mavericks 18-12
Scone Thoroughbreds d Greta Branxton Colts 50-0
Scone Thoroughbreds d Aberdeen Tigers 18-12
Bye: Singleton Greyhounds
Monarch blues tag
Singleton Greyhounds d Denman Devils 20-0
Merriwa Magpies d Murrurundi Mavettes 18-10
Scone Thoroughbreds d Aberdeen Tigers 20-16
Round two draw:
Saturday 8 May
1.30pm: blues tag, Aberdeen v Denman
2.30pm: reserve grade, Aberdeen v Denman
3.50pm: first grade, Aberdeen v Denman
2pm: blues tag, Merriwa v Murrurundi
3pm: reserve grade, Merriwa v Muswellbrook
At Greta Branxton
3pm: Greta Branxton v Murrurundi
Sunday 9 May
10.20am: blues tag, Singleton v Scone
11.20am: under-18s, Singleton v Scone
12.30pm: reserve grade, Singleton v Scone
2pm: first grade, Singleton v Scone