SEASON PREVIEW | Who will fire to claim tightest Group 10 title race in years?

EYES ON THE PRIZE: Mudgee's Tim Condon, Cowra veteran Rob Lawrence, 2018 Dave Scott medalist Brent Seager, Hawks fullback Jake Blimka and Oberon recruit Matt Ranse will be gunning to help their sides win the 2019 Group 10 premiership.
EYES ON THE PRIZE: Mudgee's Tim Condon, Cowra veteran Rob Lawrence, 2018 Dave Scott medalist Brent Seager, Hawks fullback Jake Blimka and Oberon recruit Matt Ranse will be gunning to help their sides win the 2019 Group 10 premiership.

The 2019 Group 10 season officially kicks off this weekend, with Hawks travelling to Lithgow on Saturday for their clash at Tony Luchetti.

Where will either side finish? What about the other seven clubs too? Keen to find out about lower grades, or players to watch at all clubs?

No side has won back-to-back titles in Group 10's top grade since 2011, when CYMS defeated Workies in Orange. Can Panthers buck that trend?

The 2019 season preview has you covered:

ORANGE HAWKS

COACH: Willie Heta.

LAST SEASON: Third

THIS SEASON: Sixth

LAST PREMIERSHIP: 2003

FIRST FIVE GAMES: Workies (away), Cowra (away), bye, Mudgee (away), Oberon (away).

PLAYER TO WATCH: Nathan Potts

The forgotten man of Hawks' 2018 campaign, due largely to the fact he missed a lot of the season through injury. But if Potts plays in the major semi-final versus Cowra, there's a massive chance last year's grand final is at Wade Park and the two blues have a shot the title. He's arguably the best lock in the comp.

LOWER GRADE SIDE TO WATCH: First division.

The two blues reggies enjoyed their best season in decades in 2018 but stumbled in the finals. Middleton and company will be keen to rectify that this winter.

LISTEN: Hear from two blues pair Willie Heta and Dean Vete ahead of the 2019 Group 10 season opener:

ORANGE CYMS

COACH: Dom Maley.

LAST SEASON: Fourth

THIS SEASON: Second

LAST PREMIERSHIP: 2017

FIRST FIVE GAMES: St Pat's (away), Blayney (away), Oberon (away), Panthers (home), Workies (home).

PLAYER TO WATCH: Josh Burke

Lot's made of the recruitment of man mountain Joseph Ualesi, but Burke's arrival at the same time could be equally crucial. The former Campbelltown Roo scored three tries in the Group 6 grand final in 2017, the only time someone from the club has done that before. He'll be a tremendous asset to the CYMS outside backs this winter.

LOWER GRADE SIDE TO WATCH: Under 18s.

There's a seriously good production line at CYMS and these young kids are all feeding into their junior side. A grand final berth in 2018 was a great reward, but this side can win it in 2019. 

LITHGOW WORKIES

COACH: Graeme Osborne

LAST SEASON: Eighth

THIS SEASON: Seventh

LAST PREMIERSHIP: 2012

FIRST FIVE GAMES: Hawks (home), St Pat's (away), Cowra (away), Oberon (home), CYMS (away).

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jack Sullivan

Big, crafty and with plenty of speed to burn - really, Sullivan epitomises everything Lithgow lacked in 2018. The big five-eighth arrives at Tony Luchetti with ambitions of steering the Lithgow ship this season but with a background in rugby union he might take time to fire. Workies fans should be patient, Sullivan is certainly one that can lead the club back the finals. 

LOWER GRADE SIDE TO WATCH: League tag.

The Workies girls have, for a long time, floated around the top five in the Group 10 league tag competition, but never really kicked on beyond that point. With an under 18s side now at the club too, watch out for the Lithgow ladies to make some serious noise.

BATHURST PANTHERS

COACH: Doug Hewitt

LAST SEASON: Premiers

THIS SEASON: Fifth

LAST PREMIERSHIP: 2018

FIRST FIVE GAMES: Blayney (home, win 44-10), bye, St Pat's (home), CYMS (away), Mudgee (home).

PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Murray.

First glimpses of Murray during the NRL curtainraiser were very promising. The losses of Barrow brothers Jye and Kade left some holes in the defending premiers' backline but Murray's speed and evasiveness will more than cover that gap. Running off Willie Wright, big chance Murray ends the year as the Group's leading try-scorer, too.

LOWER GRADE SIDE TO WATCH: Under 18s

Premiers last season and always there or thereabouts in this competition - that won't change in 2019, even if there's set to be a stack of competition in the under 18s race this winter.

MUDGEE DRAGONS

COACH: Jack Littlejohn

LAST SEASON: Seventh

THIS SEASON: Premiers

LAST PREMIERSHIP: 2016

FIRST FIVE GAMES: Cowra (home), Oberon (away), Blayney (away), Hawks (home), Panthers (away).

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jack Beasley

Played with Western Rams in the under 23s country championship, out of position too as a halfback, and shone, in both games. Beasley is a livewire in every sense of the word and as tough as nails. Both Mudgee coach Jack Littlejohn and Rams mentor Tim Ryan have waxed lyrical about this kid. If the Dragons fire in 2019 it'll be on the back of this Jack-in-the-box.

LOWER GRADE SIDE TO WATCH: First division.

With around a dozen new or returning faces at Glen Willow in 2019, not all of them can fit into Jack Littlejohn's top grade side, can they? It'll mean the Dragons' reserve grade stocks are through the roof, and a red V side at the pointy end of the first division ladder is on the cards.

BLAYNEY BEARS

COACH: Ben McKenna

LAST SEASON: Ninth

THIS SEASON: Ninth

LAST PREMIERSHIP: 1998

FIRST FIVE GAMES: Panthers (away, loss 44-10), CYMS (home), Mudgee (home), Cowra (home), bye.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Joey Hobby

A really tough, young forward that helped the club's under 18s to within a game of the 2018 grand final. Won't shy away from the work needed to be done to tighten up Blayney's middle third and if the Bears can start matching it with opposition packs then they'll remain in games for much longer than we've seen in the last few years. Hobby is the key.

LOWER GRADE SIDE TO WATCH: League tag

The Bears' girls invariably always get their club off to a winning start and have done for years. If this side can push for a top three spot and another title to sit alongside the premiership they won in 2016 isn't out of the question.

LISTEN: Hear from Ben McKenna and Ben Pettit ahead of their side's 2019 Group 10 campaign:

COWRA MAGPIES

COACH: Kurt Hancock

LAST SEASON: Second (won the minor premiership)

THIS SEASON: Third

LAST PREMIERSHIP: 1995

FIRST FIVE GAMES: Mudgee (away), Hawks (home), Workies (home), Blayney (away), St Pat's (home).

PLAYER TO WATCH: Logan Harris.

You ask the Magpies what Logan Harris brings to their side and the answer is simple - an insatiable desire to win. The uber-competitive dummy-half is as clever as they come, boasts a left-footy kick to rival former NSW Origin hero Robbie Farah and is as tough as teak, but it's his sheer desire to get one over his opposition that should ensure Cowra will again feature at the pointy end of the ladder.

LOWER GRADE SIDE TO WATCH: Under 18s

For a long time, the Magpies junior side has been one of the best performed in Group 10. Every year the baby swoopers were among the competition's top three. That run has been lean in the last couple of seasons but the club is genuinely excited about this year's group. They're on the up.

OBERON TIGERS

COACH: Josh Starling

LAST SEASON: Fifth

THIS SEASON: Fourth

LAST PREMIERSHIP: 1975

FIRST FIVE GAMES: bye, Mudgee (home), CYMS (home), Workies (away), Hawks (home).

PLAYER TO WATCH: Farren Lamb.

Arrives in Group 10 from Forbes via the shortest-of-short stints at Macquarie and lands at Tigertown after landing the winning field goal for the Magpies in the Group 11 grand final. It's a fair season. But Lamb managed that feat behind probably the best pack in Western last winter. If the Tigers don't go forward fans can't expect the young pivot to deliver the same sort of brilliance. Great player, though. Oberon has a good one here.

LOWER GRADE SIDE TO WATCH: League tag.

Oberon won one game in 2018. Nothing to write home about at all. But if you have a bit of a gander at the clearances list on the Group 10 website, Majayda Darcy's name pops up, and she's headed to Tigerland. She can play. And she's good enough to push the Tigers into finals territory. 

I've been impressed with the young, local talents that have been at every training session, working on their game.

Josh Starling ahead of his side's 2019 season opener.

BATHURST ST PAT'S

COACH: Luke Branighan

LAST SEASON: Sixth

THIS SEASON: Eighth

LAST PREMIERSHIP: 2014

FIRST FIVE GAMES: CYMS (home), Workies (home), Panthers (away), bye, Cowra (away)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Tim Holman.

Timmy Holman is one of those players, in the Ben McAlpine mould, where if they decide to take over the game their side inevitably wins. He's got a gear most other players just don't have. Holman will link with Branighan in the halves this season and if he can find some consistency and still deliver those moments of brilliance only the St Pat's gun can, then the blue and whites can push for the finals.

LOWER GRADE SIDE TO WATCH: League tag.

The best performed side of any in Group 10 in 2018 - the St Pat's girls won everything they had a crack at last season and their early season form is just as good this winter, too. Of all the sides set to kick-off this weekend, the blue and white girls are a VERY solid pick to go through undefeated. 

PREDICTED LADDER

  1. Mudgee Dragons
  2. Orange CYMS
  3. Cowra Magpies
  4. Oberon Tigers
  5. Bathurst Panthers
  6. Orange Hawks
  7. Lithgow Workies
  8. Bathurst St Pat's
  9. Blayney Bears