UNIVERSITY coach Tony Munro lamented a lack of two things after a disappointing 2019 Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union season - direction and toughness.
Munro now has them in spades after signing two-time Anderson Medal-winner Carl Manu, his cousin Devante Manu and Lake Macquarie back-rower Dylan Heins.
Manu has spent the past two seasons at Maitland where he helped turn the Blacks from a fringe finals side into a premiership force.
Devante, a tighthead prop, joined him at Marcellin Park last year and developed into one of the premier front-rowers in the competition.
Heins, a ball-winning, hard-tackling, lineout-jumping back-rower was Lake Macquarie's most consistent forward last season after returning from a broken hand.
He and Manu played together at The Waratahs for three seasons.
University finished eighth last season but were in most games for large periods.
"We played some good footy at times but couldn't sustain it," Munro said. "We just didn't have the muscle. It was boys playing men and once the boys' strength ran out in the second half, teams came over the top of us."
Manu collected the Anderson Medal in 2017 and 2018 and can play 10, 12 or 13.
"Carl brings experience and a is a proven big-game player," Munro said. "Having him in the midfield, just with his direction and decision-making, he will be invaluable to the young guys like Brady Mather.
"Dylan gives us a tough edge and can play six, seven or eight. We still have Alex Vaughan, Tom Badger and Joe Kingham and Va [Talaileva] is training like a teenager.
"The new guys have been at every training, mixing in with the boys. You can see the other players lift."
The Students have lost captain Dane Le Rougetel, who has returned to Southern Beaches.
"We will come back in and start training on January 7, which is highly unusual for the uni club," Munro said. "We have a training camp on February 14 and then trial games against Ourimbah and Sydney University."
Meanwhile, Darren Zorbas has taken over the reins at Nelson Bay and will be assisted by Michael Wiringi and Gareth Wasik. Zorbas has previously coached at Easts and has been an assistant at Hamilton and replaces player-coaches Adam Edwards and Ben Whaler.