IN DEPTH

O'Grady discusses what led to Oberon's decision to withdraw from Group 10's top grade

END OF AN ERA: Josh Starling off-loads during a Group 10 premier league match against Bathurst Panthers this season. Next year the Tigers will not field a team in that competition.

END OF AN ERA: Josh Starling off-loads during a Group 10 premier league match against Bathurst Panthers this season. Next year the Tigers will not field a team in that competition.

"IT'S terrible, it was really bad."

Those are the words that Oberon Tigers acting secretary Neil O'Grady used to describe the club's decision to withdraw from the Group 10 premier league competition for season 2020.

But from the tone of his voice, you can tell those words don't adequately convey just how much O'Grady is hurting over that decision.

Hurt. Frustrated. Bitterly disappointed.

It was a lack of player depth which left the Tigers with little option but to inform Group 10 officials at Sunday's annual general meeting of the withdrawal and that they are now considering switching to the New Era Cup Mid West competition for 2020.

It is not a new issue for the Tigers and as O'Grady explained, something the club and its supporters within the community tried to combat since Oberon returned from the Mid West competition to Group 10 in 2012.

The Tigers signed some big name players to complement their local talent, but that did not lead to a top-grade premiership, nor did it help build a more sustainable squad.

"When we came back we still struggled, at one point there they didn't win a game for 18 months in first grade. So local businessmen and Oberon stores got together and made a pledge that they would inject a fair bit of investment into the club, and they did," O'Grady said.

"We secured the Rose brothers and that didn't work, well not to the degree we hoped it would. Then we secured Luke Branighan and he got us to a grand final in 2017 and the town went nuts, it was incredible, it's the most league mad town I've ever seen in my life.

FAITHFUL: Blake Fitzpatrick has played a host of first grade games for the Tigers over the last nine seasons.

FAITHFUL: Blake Fitzpatrick has played a host of first grade games for the Tigers over the last nine seasons.

"But things went off the rails a little bit, through injury Luke wasn't really able to fulfil the 2018 expectations we had. But at that time we went and found Josh Starling, and the natural succession then was to go with Josh.

"He put a lot of steel into the pre-season and we thought 'Wow, this is going to be great'. We signed him for two years, 2019 and 2020, as captain-coach.

"In the early part of the season we lost six games by less than four points on average per game and we were very competitive against the Western Rams under 23s in a trial, so boy, we had the opportunity, we just needed to convert a things and have a bit of luck go our way. That didn't happen.

"Josh's circumstances changed, he came to us and said he wanted to commit to being a first-time father and didn't really want to play football, but if he did - he told us on a number of occasions - he would play with Oberon.

"That hasn't eventuated, but that's water under the bridge now. We have to deal with that and move on, but I think it caused a big problem with player commitment."

Starling's decision to sign with Bathurst Panthers for 2020 certainly had an impact on the Tigers. It also highlighted the issue which O'Grady feels lies at the core of Oberon's struggles.

He points out the Tigers need to sign non-local players to be competitive, even though it hurts them under the Group 10 points system. But being able to retain those players for multiple seasons has not been easy.

That in turn places more strain on the limited number of local talents.

"Oberon, with the playing pool that we've got, it's too small. You don't go grists to mill, just fodder and turn up and get flogged by 60 and 70 points every week, you have to have a competitive side," O'Grady said.

"So what we did is try to inject some imported players to fill the gaps we needed to fill to make us very competitive.

MOVING ON: Second rower Andy Adams is one of the Tigers who will play for a new club in season 2020.

MOVING ON: Second rower Andy Adams is one of the Tigers who will play for a new club in season 2020.

"We also looked after the local guys better, everyone at the club was on a contract, everyone, even the 18-year-olds. It was the first time we'd ever done that, if they sat on the bench in premier league there was some remuneration. It might not have been a lot, but it was recognition of the fact that they'd trained hard enough.

"But over the years we've attracted these marquee players from outside the area, but when the more powerful clubs have seen how good they are, they're gone.

"We get them down here on maximum points which hurts us in the points system because we don't have the playing pool, we try to find them jobs. But then the bigger, more powerful clubs can probably find them better jobs and pay them more.

"So when we've tried to look outside the box because we haven't got the numbers, we find that it's just short-term, we can't keep them. We've been picked apart."

As for what the Tigers will do in season 2020, O'Grady said nothing is yet confirmed.

Dallas Booth, who had signed with Canowindra to play under Branighan, has begun work on assembling a squad that could play in the New Era Cup. That competition also caters for the Tigers' league tag side.

If the Tigers switched the the New Era competition, they would join CSU, the Orange Barbarians and Lithgow Bears.

The other option was presented to the Tigers at the Group 10 annual general meeting. That is to remain in the competition but only field teams in the league tag and first division competitions.

O'Grady is unsure which path the Tigers will take. But he said they will play football in some capacity and retain a league tag side as "we've got a great bunch of girls here, they were the shining, the leading lights of the club last year."

"We don't want league to not be a showcase in Oberon," he said.

"We really can't in all honesty put our hands up and nominate for Group 10 based on numbers, we thought it would fit us better in the New Era Cup.

"The challenges for a small town, right at the minute, are too strong. There's too much money on offer, it's unrealistic and I think the enjoyment has gone out of the game to a degree because it's become a little bit more mercenary.

"Oberon will definitely consider all options at this stage because the town, they love it, but they don't understand that you need a really big committee, not just a handful of people because the work load is just too much. We got the bare bones of that now, but not the player commitment. A lot of people are very disappointed in the situation."