By TONY WHITE
WHAT's happened to the Clarence Valley's winter sporting teams?
In one of the bleakest winters on record, all but one senior team in five major sports has been frozen out of finals contention.
Our football stocks, in particular, have copped a kicking.
And any local fans wishing to attend finals matches, buckle up the seat belts, you are in for plenty of travel. Here's a list of the five major winter sports, excluding hockey, and our teams' performances.
nRUGBY LEAGUE: Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition ? South Grafton (seventh), Lower Clarence (ninth), Grafton Ghosts (last).
Barring a catastrophe, all are out of finals contention. South and Lower promised plenty but fell away. The Ghosts are yet to be sighted.
nRUGBY UNION: Far North Coast Rugby Union competition ? Grafton Redmen (fourth), fledgling first graders Yamba Buccaneers last and gone.
With four rounds remaining, the Redmen need at least two wins to shore up a finals berth. However, even if they qualify, there's no guarantee they will be granted a home semi-final.
nSOCCER: Far North Coast Premier League ? Maclean Bobcats (seventh of 10). Too many draws and too few goals. Semi hopes, completely gone.
North Coast Premier League ? Majos Dragons (second last), Westlawn Tigers (last). Both clubs have won only one game apiece in the new competition from 14 matches. Player commitment has been questioned. Semi hopes, impossible.
nAUSTRALIAN RULES: North Coast AFL competition. Unfortunately Grafton Tigers are wooden spoon favourites. Lack of quality players, too many on-field fracas and lack of player commitment contributed to a poor season. Semi hopes, extinguished.
nBASKETBALL: State Basketball Division One competition: Grafton Vikings, admittedly weakened by the retirement of several leading players last season, finished a distant 14th of 16. Already looking to build for next season and hoping the cycle will change.
While senior teams have endured a mostly forgettable season, thankfully a host of junior teams and minor grades in the five sports are right in finals contention and inspire hope for the future.
Apart from local fans being denied that special feeling of finals fever, failure to host local semis, finals and grand finals will cost the clubs and the Valley plenty in financial terms.
At the top end is rugby league. For example, a home grand final can mean upwards of a $40,000 financial windfall to the host club.
"Hosting a grand final is invaluable financially but apart from the money, having a home team in the grand final generates enormous interest in the town," one rugby league club president said.
It's a bleak picture, but go the Redmen.