STRONG crowd support for the finals series and Macleay Valley's resurgence were among the highlights of this year's Group Three Rugby League season, according to chairman Wayne Bridge.
The inability of Taree City to field an under 18s and the failure of a southern side to advance deep into the first grade semi-finals were the disappointments.
"Our gate for the grand final ($20,011) was the best we've had for a decade,'' Mr Bridge said.
"The crowds were good throughout the finals series - apart from one weekend when we had poor weather.''
Macleay Valley won the first grade premiership just a year after the club was forced to withdraw from first and reserve grades because of a lack of players.
The Mustangs were also grand finalists in under 18.5s.
"That was an outstanding achievement,'' Mr Bridge said.
Grand finals were played at Wauchope, with the Blues and Macleay meeting in first grade.
Mr Bridge said the fact that six clubs were represented helped swell the crowd and apart from some delays getting in and out of the ground, the day ran smoothly.
The playing field at Wauchope was ringed by spectators and this added to the atmosphere. Wauchope last hosted a grand final in 2014, with matches in 2015,16, 17 and 18 at the Port Macquarie Regional Stadium.
Wingham was the best performed southern club in first grade, bowing out in the minor semi-final after finishing second to Macleay following the competition-proper.
Forster-Tuncurry made the top five for the first time since 2015, with Old Bar finishing second last and Taree City last. Since 2007 only two southern sides (Forster-Tuncurry 2011 and Old Bar 2013) have made first grade grand finals.
"I think we all thought Wingham would go further, especially after the way they were playing mid-season,'' Mr Bridge said.
"But injuries played a part in them falling away. Forster's had a couple of tough years so it was good to see them back in the five and Wingham and Old Bar had success in the minor grades on grand final day.''
Wingham won reserve grade and Old Bar the under 18.5s.
Taree City couldn't field an under 18s for the first time.
"That was really disappointing,'' Mr Bridge said.
"Wingham had the same problem last year. I believe the Bulls are working hard to get an 18s next year and things are looking positive there.''
Taree City and Old Bar had initial discussions regarding a merger, but nothing will happen before next season.
The merger between the Country Rugby League and NSW Rugby League is expected to be finalised by November.
Mr Bridge said this won't result to any major changes to Group Three, at least in the short term.
Stay ahead with local news by signing up for the Great Lakes Advocate newsletter here.