The Tumut Blues have missed out on the signature of front rower Matthew Byatt after the forward put pen to paper with the Albury Thunder ahead of the 2022 Group 9 season.
Byatt, a native of Tumbarumba, left the Greens for the Albury Thunder in 2018 after his hometown club withdrew from the Group 9 competition.
Following two years on the border, Byatt joined the Blues, helping Tumut to a grand final appearance in 2020, and a Minor Premiership in 2021, but with his brother, Robbie Byatt, now captain/coach of Albury, the younger of the two siblings will re-join Albury.
“Rob getting the coaching job down there was a big part of signing with Albury,” Byatt said.
“To try and play finals footy with him would be pretty good as well.”
Byatt admitted it wasn’t easy leaving Tumut, citing the similarities between both clubs when making his final decision.
“It was really tough to make a decision between Tumut and Albury; they’re both really good clubs with good committees and great sets of fellas, so it was a really hard decision,” Byatt said.
The hard-working bookend will play a pivotal role in the Albury engine room in 2022, which was another big attraction when deciding to return to the Thunder.
“I think this year my role at Tumut and Albury would have been roughly the same, playing some big minutes, which is an attraction for any player I think and it’s what I want to be doing,” he said.
Winning the 2021 Group 9 Minor Premiership was Byatt’s highlight during his two years with Tumut, and he said he was leaving with no hard feelings.
“The highlight would have to be winning the Minor Premiership. We had a really good team and I think we were red-hot favourites to take out the grand final but overall, my time at Tumut was really good,” Byatt said.
Albury captain/coach Robbie Byatt was pleased to have his little brother on board, explaining what he brought to the Thunder’s big forward pack.
‘It is a big loss for Tumut, and he is a good pick up for us and he will be a really handy forward,” he said.
“He is a no-nonsense front rower, he plays straight up and down, he is a hard worker and can play 80 minutes if needed.
“He wasn’t signed because he is my brother either but because he offers a lot to the team.
“He knows most of the boys and we have a few new faces, but he is well known around the club and he is well liked.”
Tumut Blues co-coach Zac Masters said it was disappointing to see Byatt leaving the club, but he only had kind words for his former front row partner.
“Barge (Matthew Byatt) has done a great job for us over the last two years,” he said.
“Obviously we made it to a grand final last year, and this year, it got cut short when we were looking quite good.
“As I said to him the other day, it was disappointing the way we finished, and it would have been nice to win a premiership with him, but he hasn’t put a foot wrong during his time here.”
Blues will need to recruit forwards
News breaking that Matthew Byatt is joining the Albury Thunder in 2022 only compounded an issue within the Tumut Blues forward ranks.
Ron Leapai won’t be back in 2022 either, after the talented second rower committed to joining Goulburn in the Canberra competition, and there is a big question mark over the future of Canberra-based prop, Jed Pearce, and whether he will return next season.
Zac Masters said it was important that Tumut recruited at least one marquee forward
“We definitely need to recruit some talent,” Masters said.
“We certainty need to fill that middle. I’m still hoping we can get Jed over the line and back playing next year, but we are definitely looking for a front rower.
“It is disappointing to lose Barge (Matthew Byatt) and Ron Leapai won’t be back, so there are definitely a few positions left open.”
The Blues co-coach stressed that the junior talent progressing from this year’s reserve grade and under 18s sides could help fill the void, with the likes of Brodie Mirtschin, Jack Hillier, Will Casey and Ethan Gilchrist all set to play their first full season of seniors.
“It is the best crop of players we have had coming through from the 18s for a long time, so hopefully we can nurture those boys into the first-grade squad,” Masters said.