MANNING Cricket Association's new season will start on Saturday, December 4.
Five teams - Great Lakes, Taree United, Gloucester, Taree West and Wingham - will contest tier 1 following the withdrawal of Old Bar. At this stage nine sides will be in tier 2, although association president Michael Steinmetz is confident this will rise to 11 by December 4.
Mr Steinmetz said the start was delayed to December 4 to allow players who aren't fully vaccinated the opportunity to take part.
He explained that some teams would have struggled to field enough players if the association opted for a date after October 25, when it is expected community sport will be given the green light after the State hits the 80 per cent fully-vaccinated mark.
"Two tier 2 more teams should have enough players after December 1, so that'll bring the number to 11,'' he said.
He admits he's disappointed that Old Bar won't be fielding a team in tier 1.
Old Bar has been one of the leading teams in the second grade competition in recent seasons, but reportedly lost a number of players in the off-season.
"Unfortunately, it can be hard to get sides back once they drop out (of the competition).''
However, he added that five sides will ensure the season is competitive.
Mr Steinmetz confirmed the association still plans to split tier 2 at the completion of one round, even if the team numbers remain at nine.
Pacific Palms has again nominated for tier 2 after returning to the competition last season after a 20 year absence.