The Ovens and Murray league will have a three-round run into finals after it announced how it would restart the season for a third time on Wednesday.
A third consecutive round has been lost to COVID-19 after league officials confirmed this weekend's fixture would be cancelled and the competition would get back under way on August 7, from round 16.
Ovens and Murray general manager Craig Millar stated a combination of reasons, including crowd caps in Victoria limited to the people essential to conduct community sport and Victorian clubs not being able to train during the recent lockdown.
A lack of clarity around cross-border restrictions was also a factor in play not resuming this weekend.
Wangaratta co-president Ellyn O'Brien said the Pies were ready to go.
"We are disappointed with the decision, but respect the decision the O and M have had to make. It's not been an easy process over the last fortnight by any means," she said.
"The main priority was to get back out there playing, not just for the players in both netball and football, but also the supporters and sponsors. That has a big impact when we're not out there playing as well.
"We'd prefer to play with a crowd, but we were prepared to play without a crowd.
"It may be the case on August 7 when we play Wodonga here at home, we may or may not have a crowd depending on what the government decides to do. Hopefully they lift restrictions a bit more and we can have a crowd in there."
We'd prefer to play with a crowd, but we were prepared to play without a crowd.- Wangaratta co-president Ellyn O'Brien
O'Brien admitted the precarious financial position of several clubs had to be taken into consideration by the league when making the decision.
Questions have been raised as to whether players would forgo payments if clubs had to stage home matches with no spectators, but it's not likely to happen at Wangaratta unless absolutely necessary.
"We've had that discussion at board level and a football operations level if it had to come to that, but we've not had to approach any of the players yet," O'Brien said.
North Albury president Tony Burns said the Hoppers were in the same position as Wangaratta in regards to a return to play.
"We wanted to play, but I can understand the Victorian sides would have no crowd and are going to be impacted financially," he said.
"We wanted to start this week, but you've got to have everyone on board together.
"Even though we're down the bottom, the players just want to play and make sure the season gets done.
"Fingers crossed nothing else happens in the next week and we can get into the last three games and finals."
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But Myrtleford president Ian Wales admitted he was hesitant given there's a lot of uncertainty around what clubs may need to fulfill on a match day.
He believes it's important to minimise the damage on clubs financially.
"No crowds is a problem and financial problems are harder to get over than a lot of other problems," Wales said.
"If you don't run a final you get a kick back, but it's not going to make or break your club that's for sure. The 18 home and away games is what you've got to do your numbers on.
"It's fine to say 'let's play', but I think the situation is a little more complicated.
"Before I make a decision, I want to know the facts because you only need one club to get caught doing the wrong thing and the fine is $20,000. That's worse than playing with no crowds.
"Having to wear masks doesn't worry me that much, but are all the protocols still in place? Before I know what I'm going to do, I want to know what I can and can't do."
O'Brien agreed this would the league's final chance to complete the season as any more disruptions would make it too difficult.
Round 16 will see Wodonga Raiders host Corowa-Rutherglen at Birallee Park, Myrtleford face Wangaratta Rovers at McNamara Reserve, Yarrawonga welcome Albury to J.C. Lowe Oval, Lavington square off with North Albury at Lavington Sports Ground and Wangaratta clash with Wodonga at Norm Minns Oval.
A top five finals system has been retained and matches played at neutral venues, with the grand final still set for Sunday, September 19.
The loss of round 15 means its unlikely the top five will change in the senior football competition, however, Albury sits half a game behind Myrtleford for the last spot in finals in A grade netball, with the sides set to meet in round 17.
All games will be played with state government-mandated crowd limits, while Morris and Toni Wilson Medals will be awarded on the number of games played.
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