ORANGE Hawks president Gary Norton has defended the influx of islander players at the two blues over the past 18 months, claiming the club has no issue with its development of junior talent.
Over the last two seasons Hawks have welcomed a host of Tongan, Fijian and Samoan talent to their premier league and first division sides.
And it’s no coincidence over that time the club has gone from wooden spooners to preliminary finalists last year and one from one in 2011 after knocking off Mudgee at Jubilee Oval on Sunday.
That success has led to criticism, most notably in the comments section on the Central Western Daily website, that Hawks are hindering the club’s junior base due to the influx of imported talent at the club.
Norton said his club never pursued any players leading into the 2011 season.
They all came to Hawks of their own accord, he said.
“The thing with the islander players, we can probably use last year as an example, we only looked for two last year and following that we had an influx of guys that wanted to come to our club,” Norton said.
“We will help anyone that wants to come to our club.”
And they’ve done so with great success.
In last weekend’s side that beat Mudgee 26-22 - their first win at Jubilee Oval since their premiership-winning year in 2003 - Hawks had five islanders in their starting 13.
Wingers Tatafu Naaniumogu and Alofi Mataele, halfback Josefa Lasagavibau, big man Siaosi George Fifita and second rower Pat Velkoso.
They also have Group 10 centre Semisi Katoa on their books.
On the other hand, they do have Orange boys Adam Ford, Jared Brodrick, Mitch Hurford, Chris Anau, Brett Morgan and captain-coach Todd Barrow.
Star centre Glen Bunworth is also tipped to work his way back into the side from first division in the coming weeks.
The only issue appears to be what room has the club made for its graduating under 18s players?
“The ideal situation for any club would be to have their senior players come from the junior ranks. But that happens less and less now,” Norton said.
“If you look at our senior sides last Sunday, only one under 18s player from last year played and that was in reserve grade.
“We’re not the only club with this problem.”
One player who will push for first grade selection out of Hawks’ 2010 under 18s side is skipper Lachlan Sturgeon.
He is overseas on a holiday at the moment.
Norton said no players had left the club after the arrival of the islander players.
“We haven’t had any of that. Obviously players come and go but it’s not a major issue,” he said.
In the neighbouring Group 11 competition, the Parkes Spacemen have enjoyed a hugely successful period on the back of a strong arrival of internationals.
Group 11 now has a limit of four international players per club.
Group 10 president Linore Zamparini said Group 10 would not employ a similar policy.
“Obviously you have to be mindful of it. You don’t want to pick up a heap of imports and then have them leave the next year and the club fold,” Zamparini said.
“Every club is different. (Hawks) have obviously done their homework and they must believe that’s the only way they’re going to get a competitive side on the park.”
He said if it benefited the competition, then he was confident clubs would be able to manage the coming and going of overseas players properly.
“We certainly don’t want to see a club disintegrate,” he said.
“Both clubs look after their juniors.”
Hawks take on Lithgow in Lithgow this weekend.