Will the Wambo Wolves successfully defend their title?
Can the Mount Pleasant Phoenix rise from the ashes?
Or, will the Saxonvale Raiders or Mangoola Grizzlies shock everyone as the surprise packets?
The answers to these questions, and more, will be unveiled at the annual A-Plus Contracting Hunter Valley Mining Charity Rugby League Day this month.
One of the biggest events on the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service (WRHS) fundraising calendar, the tournament is set to feature 300 local coal miners locking horns for sporting supremacy at Singleton’s Pirtek Park on Saturday 20 March.
And, organiser Danny Eather can’t wait for kick-off.
“It’s been a long delay – about six months from our original date in October (2020),” he said.
“So, it’s nice to be getting things coordinated and bringing all the pieces of the puzzle together.
“We’re still going to host our regular event in 2021, too – in October – mainly off the support from the players and our sponsors.
“Everyone’s keen to see more footy action happen.”
The Wolves, Phoenix, Raiders and Grizzlies will take the field alongside the Glendell Gladiators, Ravensworth Rhinos, Saddlers Creek Sharks, Maules Creek Maulers, Rixs Creek Rattlesnakes, MTW Barbarians, Mt Owen Mustangs, Hunter Valley United Cobras, Ulan Warriors, Mt Arthur Meerkats, MTW Razorbacks and Bengalla Badgers.
However, the women’s matches won’t go ahead on this occasion.
“It’s unfortunate, but we’re hoping they return to the program in October,” Mr Eather said.
“The big change for us, really, is the element of COVID-19 and being COVIDSafe.
“We’ve had to impose a capacity on spectator numbers.
“We are capping it at 1000 people including players and team officials.
“That’s just our way to manage it.
“We’re mindful that this is probably going to be the first big event from the WRHS’s perspective since the lockdown restrictions eased.”
Like most organisations, who rely on the generosity of others, the WRHS was massively impacted by COVID-19 in 2020.
Hence, why the Hunter Valley Mining Charity Rugby League Day is being welcomed with open arms.
“Coronavirus really affected the service’s ability to raise funds,” Mr Eather said.
“I can remember back on 13 or 14 March, in 2020, we were meant to be having a staff roadshow update for the year ahead.
“COVID-19 was knocking on the door however, within 48-to-72 hours, we had to advise all our support groups to stop any fundraising face-to-face.
“That pretty much continued right through up to just before Christmas when some of our volunteers wanted to do things again up north and out west.
“But, for us here in the Upper Hunter, it’s been very quiet.”
Mr Eather said the Hunter Valley Mining Charity Rugby League Day made a massive difference on people’s lives.
“We’ve raised close to $500,000 for the WRHS – and that’s since 2014,” he explained.
“So, this event in March should see us go over that half-a-million-dollar mark.
“It’s incredible to think that from playing multiple games of football you can have such a big result.
“From the very beginning, when I first got involved, it wasn’t just about the matches.
“It was also about creating that sense of community and bringing everyone together because there wasn’t a great deal of huge [community] events in Singleton.
“It’s really become a feature icon now.
“We’re extremely lucky with the support we receive.
“Players come from all over the place – Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Cessnock, Mudgee, Muswellbrook, the list is endless.
“That’s truly a reflection of the mining sector and the role it plays in the region.
“We’re very fortunate to have that industry backing for the past 35-plus years.
“At the end of the day, everyone’s here at a central point, having a kick around in the park and a bit of fun.”
So, what can spectators expect from the Hunter Valley Mining Charity Rugby League Day?
“It’s quality action but played in a good spirit of what the day’s all about,” Mr Eather said.
“I can definitely say bragging rights are on the line.
“I know they all like to hold that shield aloft after the final showdown and post their success on social media.
“There’s even a bit of good-natured sledging.
“However, it will only be a small window of opportunity for them this time around, with the next event just six months away.
“As for the outcome, it’s going to be interesting.
“Plus, many of the guys haven’t played for quite a while, so we’ll have the Coal Services Mines Rescue crew on standby for first aid,” he added with a laugh.
“I’m looking forward to the event.”
It all starts from 9am on 20 March, with 16 round matches over four pools, as well as two semis and a grand final (4.30pm).
Entry must be pre-purchased online as there are strictly no tickets sales at the gate.