In the mid-1990s Jeparit and Rainbow were staring down circumstances that had claimed many football and netball clubs before them.
Player numbers were dwindling, and those still living in the region were ageing.
Young footballers were being lured away by promises of secure employment, or to further their education.
Though the risks to both clubs weren't immediate, it was decided to take the front foot and talk about a shared future.
Loxley Hoffmann was Jeparit's president at the time and remembered the initial conversations about a merger.
"I was approached by the Rainbow president (Greg Roberts)towards the end of the 1995 season about amalgamation, and he was quite surprised that I had a completely open mind to it," he said.
"A lot of things were compatible and a lot of our kids went to school in Rainbow, so there was a bit of familiarity there.
"One thing led to another, so we put it to the committee and said if we don't do something, we'd be stuck out on a limb - because our numbers in the future weren't looking good from the rural crisis, or the rural downturn."
The two clubs arrived at the merger with different histories.
Rainbow had been a member of the Southern Mallee Football League since 1937, where they won three premierships - most recently in 1970.
Jeparit, however, had only been in the league for five years after arriving from the Wimmera Football League in 1990.
The Redbacks - a name stemming from their club colours - weren't expected to reach great heights in the Wimmera league and were dubbed a "little bush team" when they joined in the 1930s.
They defied expectations and made the finals several times, however, were unable to claim a premiership.
Eventually, player shortages and travelling distances took their toll.
Current Jeparit-Rainbow president Jason Hutson was playing for the Redbacks in their final years in the Wimmera league.
"I started playing seniors in 1989, and that was our last year in the Wimmera league. We got pumped every week. We went to Ararat one day, and it was 46 (goals) to two or something," he said.
Ararat's 46.28 (304) to 2.2 (14) dismantling of Jeparit remains the biggest score in the league's history.
After flirting with the idea of merging with Dimboola or Nhill, Jeparit moved to the Southern Mallee Football League in 1990.
The Redbacks found early success in the league and were preliminary finalists on three occasions, before making the grand final in 1995.
It was a stark contrast to Rainbow, who was languishing towards the bottom of the ladder for years after battling through a player exodus.
Hoffmann said football clubs bore the brunt of the changing circumstances of rural towns.
"Farms were getting smaller, and services were leaving town," he said.
"A lot of my mates who grew up on the farm were encouraging their sons to go out and leave town or get an apprenticeship because there wasn't enough money in it."
Those changing landscapes were tabled to club members at the end of 1995, who emphatically voted in favour of the merger.
Nearly all of Jeparit's members - 97 per cent - voted in favour, while 74 per cent of Rainbow's voters agreed with the merger.
"I can still remember our annual meeting after we decided to do it. All of a sudden two carloads of Rainbow players came down, and we just hit it off," Hoffmann said.
"These blokes just lobbed in and had a drink at the bar and just talked about what we were going to do."
The two towns met at Lake Hindmarsh on the eve of the 1996 season to determine the new club's identity.
"We had a big meeting to work out what colours we were going to use. The three we were looking at were Essendon, Collingwood and the Bulldogs," Hutson said.
Hoffmann, a loyal Bulldogs supporter, copped a few jokes when the club went with red, white and blue.
"Out of the three they picked the Footscray one, and I had a few of my mates saying, 'You weren't there when they counted the votes were you?' ... jovial, of course," he said.
The new club reached the preliminary final in its first year but would go one better the following season.
Jeparit-Rainbow became the inaugural Mallee Football League premiers, after the Northern and Southern leagues merged in 1997.
A 62-point victory against Beulah in the grand final gifted the club its first, and only, senior flag.
The club failed to win another premiership in the further eight years it spent in the Mallee Football League.
Jeparit-Rainbow moved to the Horsham District league at the end of 2014, one year before the Mallee league disbanded.
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Hutson said those early years were special.
"It was a good atmosphere. We had heaps of players, plenty of volunteers, and it was really good for the club," he said.
Hoffmann said finding success helped the club.
"It's always very important that the first year you do anything different you make sure you have a certain amount of success," he said.
"Those critics sitting on the borderline they gradually come around. There's nothing like a winning atmosphere."
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