Group 20 rugby league
THE HAY Magpies have put the Aaron Sweeney saga behind them in the best possible way, by signing former New Zealand international and Canberra Raiders premiership player Quentin Pongia.
In a huge coup for the Group 20 wooden spooners, Pongia is locked in to play in the Magpies' season opener against the Yenda Blueheelers on April 21.
The no-nonsense forward is an ideal replacement for Sweeney, who late last year had verbally agreed to joining Hay only to turn his back on the club and join Tumbarumba in Group 9.
While Pongia is 42 and will have to fit in further appearances around his work commitments, his signature is a major boost for the Magpies on the back of a disastrous 2012 season.
Former Hay coach Ken Beissel, who brokered the deal on behalf of the Magpies' Old Boys club, could barely contain his excitement.
"This is a great opportunity for our young players to play alongside one of the greats of New Zealand rugby league," he said.
"Quentin will be a wonderful asset to the club and his keenness and enthusiasm will be contagious.
"What he doesn't know about the game isn't worth knowing."
Pongia's association with Hay began when he played for the David Reid All Stars in the Pie in the Sky match in 2011 the same year he served as assistant coach at the Raiders.
His resume also features nine World Cup games and spells with the Warriors, Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra.
Funnily enough, one of Pongia's former teammates at the Roosters was Griffith's Simon Bonetti, who last week all but decided against coming out of retirement to join the Yenda Blueheelers.
If he had done, it would have made for a dream reunion in the opening round of the season.
"Group 20 is going to be a strong competition this year and if Hay wanted to compete we needed to strengthen the forward pack," Beissel said.
"The kids at the club need protection to exhibit their great skills and learn on the job."
The Magpies have also signed back rower Phil Crosby, who last year featured for Collegians in the Illawarra competition.