Oberon will start the 2018 premier league season as raging-hot favourites after capping an epic week of recruitment with the biggest catch any Group 10 club has made in the last eight years.
The Tigers have landed former Newcastle Knight Josh Starling, the workhorse prop set to join ex-Ron Massey Cup forward Mick Hawkings and former Group 10 player of the year Ben McAlpine in black and gold next season.
Starling played 13 NRL games with the Knights last year, averaging 25 tackles and 10 hit-ups, and had stints with South Sydney and Manly after debuting in 2012.
He’s played 80 NRL games in arguably the hardest position on the field and come kick-off of the 2018 Group 10 season in April will still be only 27.
CYMS captain-coach Mick Sullivan was the last time a player, straight out of the top flight, to land in Group 10 in their prime. That was in 2010, Sullivan was 29 and directly from Canterbury.
Along with retaining the bulk of the 2017 side that helped the Tigers qualify for the club’s first grade final in 42 years, Oberon heads into next season as the envy of every other Group 10 club.
“There’s not many guys that go straight from NRL to bush footy,” an elated Oberon captain-coach Luke Branighan said.
“Along with other signings, he’ll complement the other local players we have really well.
“The blokes we’ve bought are top quality players but they’re top quality people too, and that’s something that’s important to the club.
“Along with Mickey Hawkings, he’ll teach our other forwards so much. We had a young pack last year and they’ll grow and learn.”
Branighan said the club met with Starling last week.
The club’s newest addition is moving to the area after not being re-signed by the Knights ahead of 2018.
Starling has links to the Western Rams area, too, with his partner being from Bathurst.
Branighan said Starling was keen to link with the Tigers after being at the Group 10 grand final at Wade Park in September – one the Tigers lost 23-22 to Orange CYMS.
“He’s excited with the vision we have. Also, he’s impressed with the supporter base on grand final day. He was blown away, we probably had the most supporters there and for a town of 3000 people, that’s pretty incredible,” Branighan added.
With three big names headed to the club, Oberon is expected to be able to accomodate those players as well as retain the bulk of last year’s squad with Group 10 expected to raise the points cap for small-town clubs like Oberon in 2018 in a bid to ensure the longevity and competitiveness of those clubs into the future.
The 2017 points cap sat at 17. But for Oberon and other small-town clubs, that could go as high as 21 for 2018.
Branighan said he wasn’t concerned about that, though, he’s just happy the hardest part of the off season – recruiting – was now complete with three massive signings in the space of a week.
“I can put my feet up for the summer now,” he joked.
He’s not concerned about Oberon being tagged as title favourites leading into 2018, either.
“Someone will be labelled with that tag. We haven’t won anything for 42 years, so I’d be surprised if we were,” he said.
“I’ve been at other bush clubs and worked with NRL and our hard working committee led by Ian Christie-Johnston and fantastic blokes like Darren McFawn and Ross Gibson, it’s a fantastic bush club and I wish they’d found me earlier.”