Orange Hawks officially kicked off their Group 10 premier league rebuild on Tuesday by announcing their first major signing for the 2017 season, and it’s huge.
The two blues have secured of one of the most renowned players in Country Rugby League to captain-coach their premier league side for the next two seasons – incumbent Country Firsts five-eighth Willie Heta.
The Country Firsts guernsey is impressive enough, but that’s just the start of Heta’s bulging resume.
A former New Zealand Maori and Auckland Vulcans star, Heta is the reigning Newcastle Rugby League players’ player and leading point-scorer after starring in South Newcastle’s 2016 title win.
He also directed Albury around the paddock in all three of the Thunder’s consecutive Group Nine titles between 2012 and 2014, winning the John Hill Medal for man-of-the-match in the grand final in both those individual years.
During his stint in Albury he picked up leading point scorer and player of the year honours as well.
Hawks president Mark Johnson was ecstatic to announce the signing on Tuesday morning and said he can’t wait to see just how big an influence Heta will have on the two blues, who finished eighth with just two wins in 2016.
“It’s just huge, it’s massive. I’d say it’s probably the biggest signing the club’s had since, well, since I don’t know when,” Johnson enthused.
“What he can bring to the club with his experience is huge, and he just seems like a guy that everywhere he’s been they’ve loved him and they’ve had success.
We struggled in 2016, there’s no doubting that but we’re confident Willie is the kind of player, along with the guys from last year we’ve identified to play premier league, we can base our rebuild around.
“You know, we’re not looking to bring in a first grade side to win games for us.
“We’ve identified a lot of last year’s side, and we’re trying to build around them by signing a couple of really quality players in certain positions.”
One Hawk Johnson said will benefit from Heta’s signing more than anyone else is rookie halfback Brodie Christopherson, who is still finding his feet at premier league level but has shown plenty of class at times.
He also confirmed Hawks are in the process of negotiating another major signing to go along with Heta, but refused to release details until the deal was completed.
Reportedly, in October, Heta had already re-signed with South Newcastle for 2017 but Johnson said the two-blues’ faithful can rest assured he will be in Hawks colours next winter after being “given the all clear by South Newcastle and the CRL” to sign the kiwi star.
Hawks are also expected to re-sign boom centre Viane Falaniko in the near future, he’s signalled his intentions to stay with the club in 2017.