If you’re building a bush footy team from the ground up, who’s the first player you’d pick?
A flashy half? Lightning quick outside back? Ball-playing back-rower? What about tracking down a relation of James Tedesco’s and throwing him the world?
Nope, scrap them all, even the Tedesco one.
You sign a prop. In country footy, they’re literally worth their weight in gold.
So it should come as no surprise to find six of the biggest men in Group 10 on this year’s Most Influential list.
Starting with arguably the best bookend in bush footy right now ...
1 Ethan McKellar (Orange Hawks)
From relative unknown in 2017 to the best forward in the competition 12 months on, McKellar’s rise to the top of Group 10 has been as surprising as it has meteoric.
Landing at the two blues as a wide-running backrower, the 21-year-old is now the best prop in the competition.
If the measure of a good prop is his last run being just as hard as his first, then McKellar is not only the best prop in Group 10, he’s knocking on the door of best prop in bush footy.
There’s a lot of good props on this list, mainly because I like them, but also because I firmly believe you can’t win games of country footy without a good one – McKellar’s now at the top of that class.
2 Josh Rainbow (Cowra Magpies)
Cowra has come a long way in 2018, and while a lot of the plaudits naturally go to such a silky smooth attacking weapon like Jeremy Gordon, no one has had a bigger impact on the swoopers this winter than Rainbow.
Named captain of the club after returning from a stint with the Blayney Bears, Rainbow has transitioned from a versatile outside back to a powerhouse backrower, one equally at home smashing halves as he is setting up his outside men with a sublime pass or a deft kick with his left boot.
Big, strong and with a surprising turn of foot, Rainbow just about has it all – could be the man to lead the club to its first title since 1995.
3 Tim Holman (Bathurst St Pat’s)
At the start of 2018, if a St Pat’s half was making this list, it was likely to be boom recruit Josh Merritt.
It’s not. Merritt’s gone. Holman’s in. St Pat’s are back.
You’d be hard pressed to find a player that makes the impossible seem like a regular occurrence but Holman, a favourite son at St Pat’s after featuring in the club’s 2008 premiership win, can pull a rabbit out of the hat, seemingly at will.
And that sort of class and creativity in the halves is priceless.
4 Tui Oloapu (Oberon Tigers)
Powerful, quick and incredibly light on his feet, if Oberon is to make a run at this year’s title – and I think they definitely can – Oloapu will be leading the charge.
When ever the Tigers shift the ball right, Oloapu is the focal point – opposition teams know it, they just can’t stop it.
In a team full of stars, Oloapu is Oberon’s brightest.
5 Willie Heta (Orange Hawks)
Calm, composed and the driving force behind a killer instinct Hawks has lacked since storming to the Group 10 grand final in 2013.
Heta arrived late in the pre-season in 2017 and it showed, as Hawks battled consistency to ultimately miss the finals.
A full pre-season then into a horror draw, one that included seven away games in the opening round, and Heta’s two blues have not missed a beat.
Coaching a side that must now be considered one of the scariest in Group 10, Heta is the key. If he plays well, Hawks invariably win. If he fires in big games, well, Hawks could well land a premiership.
6 Doug Hewitt (Bathurst Panthers)
Best No.7 in the comp.
Has it all. Kicking game is brilliant, passing game is perfect and, crucially for a half, isn’t afraid of running the ball, in fact it’s his best asset.
Panthers looked set for a lean season after the club lost its coach, most experienced forward, best back and a stack of other players too, but Hewitt has taken the reins and ushered in a new era, one built around club talent and hard work.
This kid can play, and more importantly those around him play for him.
7 Luke Branighan (Oberon Tigers)
It’s not hard to work this one out.
When Luke Branighan plays, Oberon is a fair superior team to the one sans its veteran playmaker.
Composed, albeit fairly injury prone, the Tigers five-eighth boasts one of the best kicking games in Group 10, which he used to lift the club to its first top grade grand final in 42 years last season.
If Oberon makes the finals, and Branighan is there, it’d take a brave man to write them off.
8 Mick Sullivan (Orange CYMS)
Impossible to have a list like this and not have Sullivan on it.
The most competitive man in Group 10, Sullivan has been pivotal in all of CYMS’ premierships since 2010 and if the five-time title winner is to go out a winner in 2018, he’ll be leading the charge.
Is ice cool in the clutch, and that counts for plenty in pursuit of a premiership.
9 Sam Dwyer (Bathurst St Pat’s)
Sammy Dwyer’s one of the nicest fellas you’re likely to ever meet in bush footy, it just so happens he’s also one hell of a fullback.
It’s always tough transitioning to a new club, let alone a new competition, and Dwyer has done both with ease, maintaining his position as the best No.1 in Western.
An out-and-out livewire, Dwyer’s ability to break tackles with his kick returns is a massive bonus for a huge St Pat’s pack.
10 Saul Houma (Orange Hawks)
Arrived at Hawks with the tag of ‘the two blues’ Chris Bamford’.
That tag is way off. First up, no one is another Chris Bamford – #bigBam is so unique, his mark on Group 10 will take some beating.
But, by the same token, no one – and I mean no one – is another Saul Houma, the man mountain of a prop virtually unstoppable close to the line.
Out of nick to start the season, big Saul is warming to the task as the season continues and if his improvement, and influence, continues on its current trajectory, he’ll will be an out-and-out monster for Hawks come finals time. Look out.
11 Jeremy Gordon (Cowra Magpies)
A master at work, Gordon is back with the Magpies having taken the club to the 2014 Group 10 grand final in a one-season smash and grab job at Sid Kallas Oval.
At his best at fullback, Gordon has been forced to cover a few positions in 2018 as the swoopers battle injury, but the black and whites haven’t missed a beat, and the 2016 Group 10 player of the year has a lot to do with that.
Cowra will finish top three, and Gordon looks set for another crack at an elusive title.
12 Blake Tidswell (Cowra Magpies)
Most underrated player in the competition, until now.
Tidswell is giving Cowra’s new hot-shot backline all the time and space it needs to fire.
Tireless in his work, and to borrow a line used by Phil Gould while watching Dave Tyrrell circa South Sydney 2014, the year they won the comp, every club needs a Blake Tidswell.
13 Blake Lawson (Bathurst Panthers)
There’s something really difficult to nail down about Lawson, the Panthers three-quarter with the happy knack of scoring tries, and bagfuls of them.
In the big moments, Hewitt goes to his right side, one Lawson dominates, and that says something about both Lawson’s potency and his standing in a Panthers team jam packed with attacking options.
14 Josh Starling (Oberon Tigers)
Would be higher on this list if it weren’t for the fact the former NRL prop has been forced into the halves.
Won the man of the match honour in the Western Rams open representative clash after leading Group 10 to its first senior victory over Group 11 in four seasons.
Strong, powerful and with a big motor, Starling’s most effective in the front-row.
15 Chanse Burgess (Mudgee Dragons)
It’s hard to tell if Chanse Burgess was once a halfback or just goes to be dreaming about being one, because inside a prop’s body there’s flick passes Benji Marshall would be proud of, mid-field bombs Cooper Cronk can’t muster and three-man cut out passes Gareth Widdop struggles to nail.
Incredibly fun to watch, but also vital to the Dragons. Burgess has been serving a two week suspension leading into the long weekend, Mudgee lost both games, the latter by over 40 points.
When he’s back, Mudgee’s a hope of a push towards the post season. If he’s out, for any reason, again this season, bye bye Dragons.
16 Tom Satterthwaite (Orange CYMS)
Best finisher in Group 10 – bar none.
As a winger, the ex-Wests Tigers ace has won both a Dave Scott Medal – as man of the match in the 2017 Group 10 grand final – and the Terry Brown Medal – as best on ground in the Group 10 All Stars.
No player in Group 10 owns both accolades, and even now as CYMS’ fullback, Satterthwaite turns half chances into four-pointers.
An incredible athlete.
17 Zac Merritt (Bathurst St Pat’s)
Topped the Group 11 list last season, a few months after leading Forbes to a drought-breaking first grade premiership.
Started 2018 slowly with St Pat’s but is working his way, ominously, into the frame as the blue and whites begin to build some momentum.
For a big man, Merritt’s footwork at the line defies his powerhouse frame. If he fires, St Pat’s can make this year’s grand final.
18 Cody Godden (Lithgow Workies)
After a season up on the hills at Oberon, Godden has returned to his junior club and has proved an invaluable addition for a club on the rebuild, one now in the post-Van Veen era.
Has played five-eighth, fullback and in the centres, and wouldn’t look out of place in the forwards, Godden has led this Workies team in 2018, one that knocked off competition leaders Hawks at Wade Park, and done so with aplomb.
19 Tim Mortimer (Blayney Bears)
Blayney hadn’t won a game in 18 months, but in round five that drought broke in style, too, as the Bears stormed to a 46-14 win over Lithgow.
And you’ve got to tip your hat to new coach Tim Mortimer because of that.
A premiership winner with CYMS last season, Morts is the best lock in Group 10 and is shouldering a lot of the load for the maroon and whites and while ever that’s the case the club will be in the fight.
20 Jack Beasley (Mudgee Dragons)
Mudgee’s Mr Fix It.
Started the year at hooker and crossed for a hat-trick and scored 30 points in the Dragons’ big round one win in Blayney, but has since shuffled to Mudgee’s halves, and done equally well in the No.6 jumper.
Bursting with talent, Beasley’s a gun the club can – and should – build around for years.