The Group 10 coaching puzzle is finally complete.
Mudgee officially confirmed club legend Ben Gregory as its head coach for 2018, the Dragons the last club to name a coach ahead of what is shaping up as a bumper Group 10 campaign.
Of the nine clubs set to contest this year’s premier league title race, six – Lithgow, Blayney, Bathurst St Pat’s, Bathurst Panthers, Mudgee and Cowra – have new coaches calling the shots.
Just about every Group 10 club kicks off pre-season training in the next week, too. Here’s a run down on who is leading the charge for your club.
LAST YEAR’S COACH: Chris Rhodes.
2018 COACH: Graeme Osborne (2012 premiership)
Some clubs just seem to perform better with coaches on deck, rather than a player-coach. Workies is one of those clubs.
And in 2018, Lithgow has turned back the clock by appointing Graeme Osborne as mentor for 2018.
Osborne was at the helm during for the club’s last title in 2012 – a thumping 40-14 victory over CYMS – and has guided Workies to grand final appearances in 2009, 2011, 2015 and a preliminary final appearance in 2013.
This 2018 Workies squad probably won’t boast the same calibre as those successful sides, but Osborne’s a smart operator that will get the best out of Lithgow.
2018 COACH: Luke Branighan.
If premierships were handed out after 70 minutes in grand finals, Oberon would be heading into the new season with the 2017 title firmly in toe.
But they’re not, and the heartbreak of coming so close in a 23-22 grand final loss to Orange CYMS last September, after leading for just about the whole game, will surely drive Branighan and the Tigers in 2018.
With easily the best squad of any Group 10 side, the pressure is on Oberon this year – Branighan will be the key.
LAST YEAR’S COACH: Peter Hickman.
2018 COACH: Ben Gregory.
Ben Gregory knows what it’s like to be successful in Mudgee, having been part of the club’s five straight Group 10 grand finals between 2000 and 2004, winning the Group 10 player of the year gong in 2001.
But those days seem like an age ago.
Gregory is calling on the tight-knit Mudgee community to rally around the team like it did in those years, making a road trip to face the Dragons the toughest assignment in Group 10.
To do that, Gregory’s first port of call should be bringing back the Peanut Gallery.
LAST YEAR’S COACH: Todd Barrow.
2018 COACH: Doug Hewitt.
A real tough one. Since his days leading around an unstoppable Panthers side in the juniors, Hewitt’s had coaching material written all over him.
But, the young half suddenly heads into this season minus a stack of the players that helped take Panthers to two straight preliminary finals – including 2016 Group 10 player of the year Jeremy Gordon.
The club should rally around a local junior at the helm but, sans a lot of experience, Panthers could be battling with the likes of Mudgee and Lithgow for a shot at the finals.
BATHURST ST PAT’S:
LAST YEAR’S COACHES: Kurt Hancock, Brady Cheshire, Daniel Finn.
2018 COACH: Greg Behan.
The most intriguing appointment from any of the clubs to give a new coach a run in 2018.
Behan was easily St Pat’s best player throughout a tough campaign in 2017, but will have to manage a stack of big names, some of which will be travelers, in his first crack at coaching a first grade side – it won’t be an easy task.
St Pat’s are potentially a side that can rival Oberon. Fulfilling that potential will be squarely on Behan’s shoulders.
LAST YEAR’S COACH: Will Ingram.
2018 COACH: Tim Mortimer.
A smart appointment, Mortimer, coming off a premiership win with CYMS, brings a stack of football knowledge with him to the 2017 wooden spooners.
Blayney will improve. There’s no doubting that – with fiery, red-head prop Brady Cheshire on deck you can expect plenty of grizzle at King George Oval in 2018.
But the club is probably still a couple of class backs away from challenging for a spot in the finals.
Mortimer’s last coaching gig netted a minor premiership and grand final appearance with Hawks in 2013.
LAST YEAR’S COACH: Rory Brien.
2018 COACH: Steve Sutton.
From no committee, to one of the best rosters in the Group – Cowra’s meteoric rise through the summer has Group 10 talking.
And you can bet Steve Sutton’s appointment as coach has had a lot to do with it.
Possible Cowra Magpies line-up 2018: 1 Bradyn Cassidy, 2 Desi Doolan, 3 Zac Browne, 4 Warren Williams, 5 Cal Clyburn, 6 Jeremy Gordon, 7 Joe Bugg, 8 Blake Tidswell, 9 Benji John, 10 Will Ingram, 11 Mitch Browne, 12 Josh Rainbow, 13 Ronny Lawrence. Coach: Steve Sutton #Group10— Pete Guthrie (@PeteGuth) January 9, 2018
Sutton took the club to the 2014 grand final, one they ultimately lost to St Pat’s.
Sutton has coached at every level in bush football and almost always gets the best out of his playing group. Could end up with a top three side in 2018.
2018 COACH: Willie Heta.
Arrived in Group 10 with the tag as the best player in bush footy – a Newcastle competition player of the year award in 2016 testament to that.
And while Willie Heta gave us flashes of play that warranted such a brand, we want more in 2018.
We could very well get it, too.
Heta is building quite a squad at Hawks and, with the youth movement at the two blues that year older, expect the Orange club to be seriously better than the inconsistent menace that gave fans hope then took it away on a weekly basis.
Heta can take this team to top three in 2018.
2018 COACH: Mick Sullivan (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 premierships).
Accomplished doesn’t begin to describe Sullivan’s coaching record in Group 10. It’s nigh on unparalleled.
With no Bamford, Tim Mortimer and no McAlpine in CYMS’ squad in 2018, this year’s premiership defence could be one of Sullivan’s toughest campaigns since joining the club.
But the competitive flame burns brighter in Sullivan than anyone else in the competition – he hates to lose.
Set to head into the new season with a stack of Orange talent – CYMS aren’t favourites, but don’t write them off either.