Remember this one …
“I hope other Groups see how good we are. I think Group 11, at the moment, I reckon we’re on top. I can’t say enough. I love Group 11.”
You’ve got to love the enthusiasm of Group 11 chairman Derrick Hoe.
But, in 2018, I think it’s safe to say we’re about to see a massive swing to the east in western rugby league.
That’s if the movements in the last seven days are anything to go by anyway.
On top of the blockbuster signing of Forbes prop Zac Merritt, Bathurst St Pat’s has poached Parkes duo Sam Dwyer and Brendon Tago from the Spacemen in a calculated recruitment blitz designed to ensure the club’s maiden season at its new home on Hereford Street goes off with a bang.
There’s also reports Macquarie star Josh Merritt might be on his way to the blue and whites, too, although the Group 11 pivot isn’t expected to confirm anything until the new year.
As big as the news is for Group 10, it’s a pretty massive step back for Group 11.
Wind the tape back, Hoey.
The exit of Zac Merritt, last year’s winner of the Most Influential Player poll run by Fairfax, the 2017 Group 11 player of the year in Dwyer and one of the competition’s most feared forwards – when fit – in Tago leaves a massive void in the black and red competition.
Not convinced there will be a dearth of quality in Group 11 next year?
Parkes legend Dennis Moran has retired as well. Nyngan captain-coach Stew Mills has moved on too.
It’s not uncommon to see players leave a competition, but this is a massive turnover of the best players in the competition.
It’s almost unprecedented.
The quality will dip. It has to.
It’d be like Jeremy Gordon and Brent Seager leaving Bathurst Panthers and joining Orange CYMS prop Chris Bamford at Dubbo Macquarie next winter.
Throw in the retirement of Mick Sullivan and departure of Willie Heta as well.
Group 10 wouldn’t be the same.
In anyone’s terms, it’s a big hit. They’re irreplaceable players.
There’s rumblings of some big signings in Wellington while Nyngan is renowned to pull big name players late in the pre-season.
But even if all of those expected additions come to fruition, it’s hard to see 11 coming close to 10 this winter.
Group 11’s standing as the best in the Western world will get its first test come the return of the senior Group representative clash next season.
For the first time in three seasons – which includes the 2017 under 23s match-up - Group 11 won’t win. They simply can’t.
As good as Zac Merritt, Tago, Dwyer and potentially Josh Merritt make St Pat’s, the Bathurst club won’t even start 2018 as favourites – not with Oberon building one of the best rosters seen in the Western Rams area in the last decade.
Josh Starling, Ben McAlpine, Tui Oloapu, Luke Branighan, Micky Hawkins and some of the best locals in either Group … it’s hard to see a Group 11 side beating Oberon.
In fact, it’d probably be a fairer match-up than the one we’re likely to see when Group 10 takes on Group 11 in April next year.
There’s still time to recruit players, but the best are being snapped up before Christmas, well before in the case of Oberon’s prized bunch.
Here’s hoping a few of what’s left land in Group 11 in 2018.