By GREG WHITE
THE final piece of the Group 2 coaching puzzle fell into place this week when new centre Michael Close was elevated from the player ranks to captain-coach of Woolgoolga.
The former North Sydney Bear was signed up following the departure overseas of John Cross and Seahorses president Chris Hughes said Close had already been earmarked at the time as a 'future' coach.
"We were in the middle of negotiations with another former Bear (Rob Toshak) for the coaching job but couldn't help thinking how good Michael would be in the job somewhere down the track," Hughes said.
"Then Rob picked up a job in England so we had no hesitation giving Michael his promotion.
"He took about five seconds to accept."
Close is 'over the moon' at an opportunity that makes him the envy of his brother coaches.
"While I haven't been sideline to watch the team play, I've watched videos from last season and there's a remarkably amount of talent to work with," he said.
"How they came from that Orara hiding at the beginning of the year to go so close was wonderful.
"It's a pity they went off the boil near the end but I think a couple of minor changes can fix that."
A conversation with a number of former acquaintances from Woodlawn College convinced Close to link up with Woolgoolga.
"I knew Xavier Sullivan and Kurt Hancock from the Mustangs and they told me what a great club it is," he said.
"Bellingen had made contact, but then Jason Stanford rang up and asked me to training.
"As I didn't want to be hanging around, within 24 hours I'd made my mind up and signed."
Content at the time to earn his first grade spot, Close admits being taken by surprise at his sudden elevation.
"When 'Melon' Hughes first raised the subject I was a bit stunned," Close said, "but he didn't have to ask twice."
Woolgoolga have retained all bar John Cross from 2006 and in addition to Close have snared two key backline signatures.
Ryan Farrell will move from Lakes United in Newcastle, while former Australian Schoolboy rep Tim McManus has made the switch from Wentworthville in the Jim Beam Cup.
And Close still has two forwards on his shopping list, both with impeccable first grade credentials in Group 2.
"One is my cousin who has been freshening up for a year and there's another who's been highly recommended," he said.
"There's a good feeling about our prospects next season."