When discussing his club’s 2018 Group 11 campaign, Nyngan Tigers president Glen Neill says it’s “gone from bad to worse”.
But if the men in black and gold are to salvage anything from this season, the marquee signing of Josh Merritt will definitely help.
Neill confirmed the talented half has linked with the Tigers after departing Group 10 club, Bathurst St Pat’s.
A Group 11 standout for a number of years, mainly through his time with Macquarie, Merritt departed the Raiders after last season.
However, after lasting less than a year at Bathurst he’ll be tasked with getting the Tigers back into the finals conversation.
“We need a bit of a boost and that’s what we hope this does,” Neill said, Nyngan having won just once in the opening six rounds.
“We want to be better in the second round and we’ve still got guys battling with injuries but we’ve got to be better now.”
Pats’ president David Chapman said Merritt made the club aware of his decision to move back to Group 11 ahead of the round nine clash with Orange CYMS on June 3.
Chapman said a hefty travel load was weighing on the crafty playmaker.
“And that’s the challenges you face when you sign people outside of the town that are travelling, it wore thin on Josh and his partner," Chapman said.
“We're disappointed, he was just starting to hit his straps. But we weren’t standing in his way."
Chapman said the club's expectation was Merritt would be at the Thursday ball-work session, as is the case with fellow travelling players.
“They were there for those," he said.
“But from Dubbo to Bathurst over and back and then for games too, that was always a challenge.
"We were hoping the lifestyle and what we provide at the club would tempt them to live here, but it’s not ideal."
While confirming Merritt has now signed with the Tigers, Neill did quash a number of other rumours which had been swirling around his club.
There’s been plenty of talk around former captain-coach and fan favourite Stewart Mills returning to club at some stage this year but the Tigers president said the hope of that “has finished” while adding hooker Reece Goldsmith is also unlikely to be seen in Nyngan colours again this season.
Merritt’s younger brother Jai, currently on the books at Macquarie, has also been tipped to leave and play with his sibling but the Tigers supremo said he was unaware of conversations with the young playmaker.
“In last year’s junior competition I did say if there was one player we could have it would be him but we haven’t talked to him,” Neill said.
The focus for the club is this weekend, and Josh Merritt is all but certain to debut for the Tigers at Larkin Oval on Sunday.
There the Tigers meet Dubbo CYMS for the first time competitively since last season’s grand final.
Nyngan was the talk of Group 11 last year with a star-studded team and passionate fanbase lighting up the competition on the way to the decider.
While they lost that match to the Fishies hopes were high heading into season 2018.
But the club failed to adequately replace Mills and a number of potential deals fell over at the final hurdle, admittedly at no fault of the Tigers’.
Jacob Neill, club stalwart and son of Glen, was eventually handed the captain-coach’s reins roughly two months before the start of the 2018 season.
But a depleted roster, hurt more by a number of injuries, has struggled this campaign with a win over last-placed Narromine the only highlight so far.
Merritt’s arrival has sparked some excitement and optimism around the club, but the Tigers president confessed one eye is already on next year.
“There’s not a lot that can be said about it,” Neill said.
“Injuries have whacked us to buggery but with a bit of luck we’ll make the semis. But we are already looking at next year.
“This year hasn’t gone to plan at all but you can’t control that. We’ve had injuries and haven’t had the depth to cover it, while last year we did have a few more numbers.”
Neill also touched on the Mills and Goldsmith situations more, stating both remain firm favourites of the club despite the fact it is unlikely either will be back.