Bathurst Panthers will unleash the most imposing front-row pairing in recent Group 10 history next year after landing the signature of outgoing Oberon captain-coach Josh Starling to bolster their bid for a third straight premiership in 2020.
No side has won three straight since the Tigers in 1969, '70 and '71 and Panthers manager Danny Dwyer confirmed the monumental recruitment coup on Thursday, a month after Starling was released from the final year of his contract at Oberon on compassionate grounds.
The veteran of 80 NRL appearances will form a monstrous front-row combination with Brent Seager, the only player in history to have won back-to-back Dave Scott Medals - awarded to the man-of-the-match in the grand final.
We were always hopeful of potentially signing him at some stage though and he'll be here just as a player in 2020.Bathurst Panthers manager Danny Dwyer
Starling's looming partnership with Seager already spurs memories of Lithgow Workies' awe-inspiring pairing of Kip Maranda and Mahe Hala, who at one stage in the mid-noughties also bookended the NSW Country pack.
"He'll certainly add to the pack and we're really pleased to have him on board," Dwyer said.
"We did table an offer to Josh back in 2018 when he moved to Bathurst but he decided to go and play with Oberon then, we were always hopeful of potentially signing him at some stage though and he'll be here just as a player in 2020.
"We'll be taking it year-by-year after that because it does depend on what (captain-coach) Doug (Hewitt) wants to do long-term, he still has one more year on his contract.
"But depending on what his thought process is it looks as thought we'd potentially have another player waiting in the wings, but with his experience Josh will be a huge benefit to Doug next year with what he can bring to the club in terms of coaching too.
"Obviously he's very highly-credentialed as a player and will bring a lot of experience to the side, but he's up to date with everything in the game coaching wise, it just seems like a very good fit for Josh and for the club."
While Panthers will lose young guns Noah Griffiths, Brad Fearnley and Mackenzie Atkins to the city in 2020, Dwyer said he's confident the club will retain the bulk of, if not all of their premiership winners from this year.
And considering their reserve grade side and under 18s both made grand final appearances too, there won't be any shortage of players gunning to cement a spot in the top grade side.
"Maybe we'd look for an outside back at some stage but that's exactly right, we've got some wonderful juniors and reserve graders coming through the club as well," Dwyer said.
"We haven't actually made movement on signing a lot of players yet, we'll do so after November 1 I think, but I think we should retain most of the group."
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