Eight days out from the scheduled start to the Riverina and Farrer League competitions, The Rock-Yerong Creek, Griffith Swans and Narrandera Eagles have all withdrawn.
After weeks of easing restrictions and rising hope, the balloon of excitement is leaking air.
We'll bring you updates as the day unfolds.
5pm: BOMBSHELL: Farrer Competition off
5:20pm: Jets show interest after late curveball for clubs
3pm: Practice matches await for some clubs
Respected Farrer League coaches Matt Hard and Shane Lenon say they'll continue to prepare for a season with pre-season games against Riverina League opposition on Saturday.
Hard's East Wagga-Kooringal will take on Coolamon at Gumly and Lenon's Marrar is hosting Collingullie-Glenfield Park. Elsewhere, Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong are also travelling to Osborne (see below) and CSU will play Turvey Park.
Hard said the growing uncertainty has made for a strange week.
"Nearly every side has got practice games tomorrow but we're all still sitting on the fence not really knowing what lies ahead," Hard said.
"It's a really hard feeling to describe, to be totally honest.
"We will continue along that path (towards playing) until we're advised otherwise. Obviously there's greater concerns as we stand now, because the Farrer League has lost three teams and the Riverina League one.
"Is it a case of are the dominoes about to fall? We don't know.
"We're still looking forward to taking on Coolamon... they're in the same boat. It's a tough one. We've prepared ourselves early, then we obviously had a spell, then we get them fit again and back on the track. And now we found ourselves in a similar position again."
Bombers coach Shane Lenon said he's remained as positive as possible all year.
"As a club, we're still approaching it as if we're going to play, unless the AFL makes a decision to cancel the season," Lenon said.
"At this stage, restrictions are still the same, except for Albury's changed a little bit and we've got some players who come from Albury."
Lenon said their Albury players, including ruckman Nick Molkentin, didn't train this week and won't play unless the NSW government's directive against travel between Albury and Wagga changes.
But the game against Collingullie-GP is a chance to see two new arrivals, former Lockhart pair Jesse Margosis and Andrew Emery.
1:30pm: Griffith Swans withdraw
Griffith Swans have become the second Riverina League team to pull out of 2020.
The Swans have followed Narrandera in taking a decision for their own club rather than wait for an AFL Riverina directive.
"We'll withdraw from the competition as well," Griffith president Jeff Harris said.
"Like most clubs, we've been heavily weighing up the risk versus reward balance. For us, the risk - not for the playing group as much as the supporters and the wider community - got to the point where that is weighing heavily on everyone.
"With that in mind, we think it's best for everyone if we withdraw from senior footy and netball."
- Read the full Griffith Swans story right here
1pm: Lions prepare for Osborne trial
Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong are heading to Osborne tomorrow as planned. The Lions remain not just committed but excited.
"100 percent. we're focussed still on the 2020 season. Weve got all our protocols in place and as a committee, we're happy to continue with the season," president Jason Hamblin said.
"At this stage, 2020 is all systems go for us.
"We're planning to go to Osborne with a pretty handy list."
Osborne are affected by Albury-based players being unable to travel. The clubs have opted against two grades playing, and will have one game with unlimited benches. In a refreshing change, it was good to talk football:
"I just want to see how our forward line structure works with a few talls there with Nick Murray at centre-half-forward, Riley Corbett, and Dan Foley on a flank. And Lou Miller in a forward, he's all class. He was the best player in our intra-club last week," Hamblin said.
Hamblin said Ben Walsh's role at centre-half-back and their on-ball brigade are other areas they're keen to observe.
"The on-ball brigade, they've had a full pre-season. They haven't missed a beat and I don't think I've seen Aaron Proctor as fit as he is."
Matt Hamblin will play through the middle this year and Tom Anderson.
The Lions are rapt in how they're shaping up.
"We're still super focussed for this year. We had a good list pre-Covid. But the additions of Nick Murray and Riley Corbett... it'll be a potent forward line. It's going to be hard to contain."
12:30pm: MCUE remain positive
Riverina League club Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes president Jesse Cunningham said the Goannas remain upbeat and hopeful of playing.
The Goannas had a trial against North Wagga last week and hope to be lining up against Leeton-Whitton in round one next weekend.
"Absolutely, we're still keen and raring to go as a club," Cunningham said.
"Obviously there is so much uncertainty around football and day to day life as a whole and we're just going off the health advice from the government which says it's still safe for us to have a season, potentially.
Cunningham said there's logistical challenges for clubs to meet the Covid-19 guidelines but believes they can manage those and get a season up and running.
He respects that it's up to clubs to make their own decisions.
"Every club faces its own challenges. Not every club's challenges are the same as any other clubs. And all committees are doing what they feel is best for footy and for their community," Cunningham said.
"But if its safe to play and we're told we're allowed to play, we'll follow the guidelines. We'll try to remain positive."
10:45am: Narrandera withdraws
Narrandera have become the first Riverina League club to decide against playing in 2020.
The Eagles, who were due to play the Northern Jets on Saturday in a practice match, have declared the risk too great amid community concern.
"We're not prepared to play in the 2020 season," Narrandera president Mark Savage said.
The Eagles said they've kept the Riverina League abreast of their concerns.
"We're just not prepared to put our community at risk. There's a lot of volunteers and a lot of people who support the club from our local community," Savage said.
"Health and safety, there's too much responsibility on clubs. Anyone can walk off the street and into the football and we don't know where they've been."
- Read the full Narrandera Eagles story right here
10am: Keen for one day of normality
Charles Sturt University is another club that has been hurt by the NSW-Victoria border closure.
Coach Pat Noonan will support whatever decision the club or AFL Riverina arrive at but said it's hard not to take note of the changing climate.
For now, the Bushpigs coach is just excited about a day of normality on Saturday, when CSU takes on Riverina League club Turvey Park at Maher Oval in a practice match.
"It's still business as usual on that front, for sure, and we'll go ahead (with planning for a season) until we get told otherwise," Noonan said.
He said a six-team competition won't worry the Bushpigs but safety, not football, is the only issue at stake.
"I'm happy to go along with anything. I think my mentality about the season was never about how many teams we'd have. It was just about getting that normality back, and that sense of community back for our guys.
"Talking to 'Curl' (Turvey Park co-coach Mark Carroll), we're both just keen to watch our boys play. He's positive about watching and coaching so we're in the same boat there.
"I do have concerns about having a comp... whether it will be doing the right thing by the community. That's just me talking but we've got to think about the wider community not just the football community.
"Two weeks ago I was keen as but the last few days have put things in perspective.
"I'll fully support whatever our committee's decision is for the club, or AFL Riverina. Everyone's worked hard to get a competition but we've all got to stick together and support whatever decisions are made.
"I fully support what Coleambally and those clubs have done. They've made a decision for their club and community and I think that's fantastic."
9am: And then there were six...
The Rock-Yerong Creek have become the second team in as many days to withdraw from the Farrer League, electing on Thursday night not to continue into 2020.
The Magpies have cited safety concerns for their decision, which was confirmed to AFL Riverina this morning. AFL Riverina is currently assessing the state of play for the competition.
The decision leaves the Farrer League with a maximum of six clubs committed at the moment, and a draw to be revamped.
Coleambally withdrew on Wednesday night, while Barellan pulled out last month.
- Read the full story on The Rock-Yerong Creek here here:
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