YOOGALI Football Club officials have hailed the signing of new head coach Abraham Watkins as the start of a brand new era for the sport in Griffith.
Watkins, the former captain of the Fijian national team, arrived in the city on Wednesday with his family and was greeted with a lavish welcoming party attended by over 100 people at the Yoogali Club.
"I have to thank the Yoogali Football Club for inviting us here. They have welcomed us with open arms, very much," Watkins told The Area News.
"I'm here to rebuild this club. I'm here to bring up new players youth to the senior level.
"If we train hard then we will achieve what we want."
The recruitment of Watkins and his two sons, international stars Archie and Sitiveni, who will both play for Yoogali is a key part of the club's mission to produce Griffith's first ever home-grown Socceroo, according to YFC juniors president John Carbone.
Late last year, YFC powerbrokers decided it needed a new, big-name coach to "grab the steering wheel" and take it into the future.
With the assistance of Yoogali Club life member Tony Catanzariti and the local Fijian community, YFC were able to pinpoint the man that fitted the bill.
Watkins is a national icon of football in Fiji.
He beat golfer Vijay Singh to the Fiji Sportsman of the Year award in 1988 and famously captained his country to a 1-0 upset win over the Socceroos in an OFC World Cup qualifier.
This is the first time Watkins has returned to Australia since the return leg of that match in Newcastle, which ended 5-1 in favour of the hosts.
But the match became known as the 'battle of Newcastle' as it degenerated into an all-in brawl, with the Socceroos accusing Fiji of picking rugby union players in their squad - such was the physicality of the encounter.
"Tony approached me over a year ago and said he really wanted to try and help the club, especially with the juniors," Carbone said.
"We sat down and had a chat and decided we really needed a coach that was going to instill the values and qualities we need and stamp out the lack of direction the club's had.
"The Watkins family is very, very grateful and appreciative of the opportunity to come to Australia. They've wanted to come here for a long time.
"I was getting goosebumps when Abraham's profile was being read out. We haven't had anyone of his calibre at the club before. The closest was Bobby Noble nearly 35 years ago, but this is probably even better.
"We brought in the big guns to assist and direct us and we're doing that again. We are leading the way by doing this.
"Yoogali FC has always been a leader here but for years we'd gone off the rails a little bit. We had the split and now we're re-instilling our foundations from 50 years ago when we first started."
Abraham, Archie and Sitiveni will all take on coaching roles in YFC's new youth academy.
"He's really keen to blood young players, which was music to our ears," Carbone said.
"That's what we want - we want to bring back the opportunity for younger players to have a run and develop into mature, seasoned, skilled players.
"The opportunity is probably a bit greater now to be noticed in Australia. It's definitely possible to produce our own Socceroo and I think having someone like Abraham draws immediate attention to the club and the players in this region."