DAYS out from playing in a Group Nine grand final qualifier, Junee have secured three star players to their roster for next year.
In a decisive move before the major semi-final against Gundagai at Anzac Park on Sunday, the Diesels struck to re-sign captain-coach Matt Hands, dynamic centre Peter Little and explosive Will Merritt for 2016.
The retention of Hands, who is Junee born and bred, was considered a formality following his impressive performance this year.
After stepping up to replace Jade Williams as coach midway through last season, Hands moved into the post on a full-time basis in 2015, steering the team to second on the premiership table.
Heading into the major semi-final against the Tigers on Sunday, Hands now has the Diesels within tantalising reach of a spot in the Group Nine grand final on September 13.
For Junee, the expected move on Hands was supported by the re-signing of Little and Merritt.
Lured away from Southcity at the end of last year, Little and Merritt were viewed as hot property on the player market, with rival clubs set to make a move.
Junee president Leo McCarthy said the triple signing coup was just the start of planning for the 2016 season.
McCarthy, who will step aside from official duties next month, stressed other key players were also on the signing agenda.
“Negotiations are ongoing for (Daniel) Foley, (Trent) Schubach, (Clifford) Morris and (Patrick) Sagigi,” McCarthy said.
“I will advise when those negotiations are completed.”
Moving quickly to retain senior players is a critical issue, and seems set to avert the prospect of Junee becoming involved in a bidding war for talent.
Despite being forced off with a leg muscle in Junee’s 24-22 victory over Southcity in the qualifying final last Sunday, Hands has been named at five-eighth for Sunday.
In a change, however, Merritt has been shifted from the second row to centre to partner Little, while Jeremy Hampton moves to the wing and Patrick Sweeney comes into the back row.
Significantly, prop Sagigi has been selected in the team subject to an appearance at the Group Nine judiciary this week on an alleged illegal tackle charge.
Sagigi was cited by Southcity after an incident involving Bulls centre Vinie Paul last Sunday.
Meantime, Southcity has moved Saturday's minor semi-final to Equex Centre.
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