Every rugby club has a respected stalwart.
They are the one who can recount every game and try scored since the 1980s.
They are a flagbearer who has held nearly every job in the club and promotes the game at the grass roots level.
The Mudgee Wombats, which is one of the oldest rugby clubs in NSW, has been around since 1874.
Adam Mort is one of those flagbearers, who is now is his sixties and fitter than most others his age. But when he walked onto a frosted Jubilee Oval Tuesday night 41 years ago, he cut a lonely figure.
"When I rocked up, there were 14 players training. I was the 15th player and we only had one team," Mort said.
"There were no juniors, no women, no anything else.
As a new season has already kicked off for those "million" Mudgee teams, there is one difference to the weekend ritual.
The Wombats will farewell the beloved - if slightly battered - clubhouse affectionally dubbed 'The Burrow' at Jubilee Oval that Mort was first welcomed into.
The club is moving to a larger home ground at the esteemed Glen a Willow Stadium.
It catches a bitterly cold wind in winter and the sun glares you straight in the eye just as first grade takes the field, but Mort calls The Burrow the "beating heart" of the growing Mudgee rugby community.
"I'm not sure what the word you use to describe this is, but that home ground feeling that's an advantage when you've got a good band of supporters and a team that lifts when you're playing at home," Mort said.
In the last two years, The Burrow was home to more than just Wombats, but a broader Mudgee population craving community during COVID-19.
"Just having people back together, every time we got to, people enjoyed it more. The club definitely had a positive impact in the community. It gave people an outlet in between lockdowns to have a good time and enjoy themselves," club president Jeff Hands said.
Like most clubs in NSW, Young in the south was knocked by lockdowns. Competitions were postponed or cancelled, crowds locked out and longstanding traditions such as celebratory songs were forbidden.
But despite nothing will dampen the Young Yabbies prospects for 2022.
"[The club] certainly is a pillar. In dry times you have more people come to the games and have beers, and similarly in the good times, you have more people wanting to kick the tin and get involved in some way," Yabbies forward Jeshua Smith said.
Young yearned for a community connection and COVI-19 saw the Yabbies pick up a somewhat surprise following in a town traditionally with a laser-like focus on the local league side, the Cherrypickers.
"The rain was our biggest issue last year, keeping people away. You go from one extreme to the other, too dry in 2017-19, whereas 2021 was bloody wet," Smith said.
"When things were open and we were able to play, we saw some of the biggest crowds we'd seen previously because it was an outlet for the town. Last year, that same energy continued because people had been turning up.
"We had a ball as our season launch in February and the energy there was awesome, we expect that to continue."
Just 1500 people call Walcha on the Northern Tablelands home and each one of them revelled in a premiership when the Rams' broke their grand final hoodoo in 2020.
When their 2021 campaign was cancelled as the pandemic ran amuck, the entire town sighed in unison.
"It was a major letdown, a real fizzer. So that was quite disheartening for the whole town," club president Roger van den Hoek said.
COVID-19 reminded communities that country footy clubs and their fields offer an intimacy that the city and its stadiums could never dream of, at a time when it was needed most.
It's more than stopping, pie in hand, to warmly chat to someone you've not seen in far too long. Half-times inspire young teammates from re-enacting the feats of their heroes. Fences sag from fired up fans clambering to embrace the match-winning try-scorer.
Mudgee's Jubilee Oval was far from perfect, covered in more kangaroo poo than any tackled player cared for. But local footy fields are also more than just a place to chase an egg-shaped ball.
They're the home of catch ups and new friends, losses that force grown men to their haunches, and moments of the most pure elation people might ever have.
When the Mudgee Wombats take to Glen Willow Stadium in what will hopefully be a lockdown-free season, Jeff Hands says it won't just be the players settling into a new home.
"The way I like to look at it is, the community is what keeps everyone coming back. The Burrow is the still The Burrow no matter where it is, it's just the location," he said.
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