Former premiership-winning Forbes prop and ex-Canberra Raiders National Youth Competition title winner Zac Merritt is taking on a new challenge, and it's probably the biggest of his career.
The fleet-of-foot prop will take the reins at Bathurst St Pat's in 2020, taking over from Luke Branighan after the blue and whites decided to go in a different direction following a disappointing 2019 campaign.
St Pat's haven't played finals footy since 2016 and will finish this winter in eighth spot regardless of Sunday's final round result against Blayney.
The St Pat's committee anointed Merritt as Branighan's successor last Thursday and believe the club's best player is also the right man to lead the Bathurst club back to the top of Group 10.
Merritt helped Forbes to the 2016 Group 11 title as a player and was on deck alongside a star-studded Canberra Raiders side in 2008 when the Green Machine stormed to the inaugural under 20s title that season.
After a stint at the club earlier in the decade, Merritt returned to Bathurst in 2018 but admits he didn't expect to be handed the keys to the club's top grade side.
"I didn't think this role would happen again but I love the club, always have done, and I've brought Mick Armstrong back on board with me," Merritt said.
"He's done great work with the league tag side and he'll be great to work with.
"I'm really proud to be in charge of another team. Hopefully we can build on a few good performances from this year and take it into next year."
... we're able to compete with the top two or three teams and we've pushed them to their limit.Incoming Bathurst St Pat's coach Zac Merritt looking at his side's ability moving into 2020
Merritt believes the last thing the club needs is a big clean out, despite winning just three of 15 games so far in 2019.
He's been impressed with the promise shown by the Saints core in a tough season.
"We might try and find a couple of halves and an outside back perhaps but I don't think we need too much at the moment," he said.
"We've seen in a few of our games this year that we're able to compete with the top two or three teams and we've pushed them to their limit.
"We'll be training hard, for sure. This year I felt we've been a bit underdone fitness wise and we picked up a few injuries.
"This is a great opportunity with a club that's looking to go forward. We'll be getting put under a bit of pressure for our pre-season so hopefully that leads to a good season."
This Sunday's match away to the Bears at King George Oval will be the final game of Branighan's coaching tenure at the club.
Merritt will become the fourth player-coach in as many seasons at St Pat's following Kurt Hancock (2017), Greg Behan (2018) and Branighan (2019).
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