Group 9 signing frenzy continues

James Strickland will return to the Junee Diesels in 2022 as the club prepares to play in the Group 9 first-grade competition. Photo: Paul W. Kerr.

Tumut might be keeping relatively quiet on the recruitment front, but it hasn’t stopped Group 9 rivals from splurging out, and pillaging teams from within and outside of the competition as they prepare for the 2022 season. 

Following the signing of coach Damion Fraser, the Junee Diesels have taken their next big step ahead of a return to the Group 9 first-grade competition, signing five marquee players.

James Strickland, a speedy utility that can slot in anywhere in the backline, had committed to Junee in 2021, before the Diesels withdrew from the first-grade competition and he ended up playing for rivals, Wagga Kangaroos.

Strickland is back in the Blue and Gold, and will be joined by two outside backs in Ratu Saurara and Josh Waqavesii, as well as forward Josh Raboiliku and the barnstorming front rower, Akuila Tuvakaikoya Tavakaturaga.

The quartet of players are yet to arrive from Fiji, but coach Damion Fraser is pleased to have a core group of players to build a team around.

“We have that framework to build around now and hopefully the locals will look at us, take us seriously and put their hands up to play for the town,” Fraser said.

“We are going to be looking around to see what pops up, but we need a few more locals to put their hands up.

“A lot of local players are on the fence, waiting to see what happens before putting pen to paper but we need a couple of leaders, and the rest will follow.”

On top of pinching front rower Matthew Byatt from Tumut, the Albury Thunder have signed Paul Karaitiana.

The former Keembra Park High School talent was in the Canterbury Bulldogs system before making the move to the Thunder. 

Albury also signed Jackins Olam, the older brother of Melbourne Storm star PNG player, Justin Olam. 

The former Newtown Jet will no doubt add some class to an Albury outfit that could be hard to topple in 2022. 

Albury coach and Tumbarumba product Robbie Byatt was pleased with how his side was coming together ahead of his first year at the helm of the border club, and he hinted the Thunder would likely make more announcements shortly. 

“It’s coming together really good and obviously we have made a couple of good signings and hopefully we can release a few more very soon,” Byatt said.

“It’s really exciting at the moment. We have good numbers at training and the group is feeling really good.” 

Wooden spooners Wagga Brothers have welcomed back Connor McCauley from Southcity, while the likes of Liam Carey, Maleke Morris and Aaron Wynne will all return to the fold as the Wagga club looks to put a disastrous campaign behind them. 

The four returning players will join the likes of Fletcher and Bas Blackett and Troy Dargin, who have all committed to Brothers for 2022.

The Gundagai Tigers have also added some star power with Latrell Siegwalt joining the Black and Gold. 

The full-back makes the move from Southcity, joining Nathan Rose as the second Bull to join the Tigers outfit before next season.

Tumut, who have been quiet, are still on the lookout for a front rower, second rower and centre, and despite multiple inquiries, are yet to land any marquee signings.