Oberon attempts to land Workies mainstay Van Veen

BANG: Workies gun Jono Van Veen gets rid of CYMS forward Kyran Bubb during the 2015 Group 10 grand final at Wade Park. Photo: STEVE GOSCH
BANG: Workies gun Jono Van Veen gets rid of CYMS forward Kyran Bubb during the 2015 Group 10 grand final at Wade Park. Photo: STEVE GOSCH

Up until early last week, Oberon had landed one of Group 10's biggest fish.

Tigers president Ian Christie-Johnson confirmed his club had been deep in talks with Lithgow stalwart Jono Van Veen, the two-time premiership winner to significantly strengthen the club’s back row stocks.

But unfortunately for the Tigers, the deal was knocked back.

“We thought we had him, but on Tuesday he declined the offer,” the Tigers boss said of Van Veen, who lifted the premiership trophy with Lithgow in 2005 and 2012.

Van Veen is likely to remain with Lithgow for the 2017 Group 10 season.

The swing and a miss for one of Group 10’s best players is the latest pre-season blow for the Tigers just weeks out from their premiership opener on home soil against Orange Hawks.

Oberon prop Luke Christie-Johnson ruptured an Achilles tendon at training, surgery likely to end his season before a ball is kicked.

While the club was also hopeful of securing the services of a prop from England, but that deal too has fallen through on the eve of round one.

“The front row is an area we’ve battled in now for a little while but we were looking good there for a moment,” Ian Christie-Johnson said.

INJURED: Luke Christie-Johnson

INJURED: Luke Christie-Johnson

“Our forwards aren’t the biggest, and Jono would have been great for us in the back row, but now we’re probably looking at pushing some of those players further up front.

“We’re still looking for players, but it’s tough at this time of the year. We looked as though we’d have a solid four props but we’re down to one.”

Christie-Johnson said it wasn’t panic stations ahead of the round one clash on April 9.

But he expected Hawks to be a tougher opponent that the one the Tigers faced throughout 2016.

“We battled throughout the 2015 season, lost most games and ran last. But we turned it around and I think Hawks can do that,” Christie-Johnson said.

“We know what it’s like to be in their position.”

Meanwhile, the best young league players in the region could be playing in a state cup competition within five years if the vision of NSW administrators is realised.

NSW Rugby League chief executive, David Trodden, said the sport is committed to creating clearly-defined pathways from junior footy to the NRL. That means viable teams from regional areas in the second-tier comp.

“One of the strategies the NRL is working on is expanding the state cups,” Trodden said.

“The vision is by 2022 there’d be four extra teams and at least three of those from regional areas. We want second-tier teams in strategically important areas in regional NSW.”