THEY are four blue-chip recruits who will give the Hunter Wildfires instant credibility and make other Shute Shield clubs take notice.
Leon Fukofuka, Henry Stowers, Kirk Tufuga and Olajuwon Noa head a list of eight marquee players who have signed with the Wildfires for their fully-fledged return to the Sydney competition.
Another 10 new players, including Maitland-bred Easts halfback Jayden Wright, will ensure the Wildfires hit the ground running.
One of the stipulations when the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union board gave the go ahead for the Wildfires to compete full-time in Sydney, was that at least 15 players were recruited from outside the region to prevent a player drain from the local competition.
Coach Scott Coleman has not only fulfilled that commitment, but has attracted quality players at the peak of their careers.
Leon Fukofuka, 25, played for Tonga at the 2019 World Cup, won the 2017 Super Rugby championship with the Crusaders and has most recently been wearing the No.9 for Auckland in the New Zealand National Provincial Championships (NPC).
Breakaway Henry Stowers, 25, played Super Rugby for Western Force this season and is in the Samaoan squad.
Blockbusting No.8 Kirk Tufuga, 29, made his debut for the Manawatu Turbos in the NPC in October.
A lock or blindside breakaway, Olajuwon Noa, 32, spent last season with Yamaha Jubilo in the top division in Japan.
"Those four in particular have played at a high level recently and give us instant credibility," Coleman said. "Most of the marquee players are in their twenties and pushing for higher honours.
"We have lost Jeremy Burrill (Norths), George Noa (Manly) and Taulogo Lalagaau (Perth). They enjoyed the experience here but believed they needed to be at a strong club to get noticed. I kept telling them we would be competitive but I couldn't announce who we had until they had signed and everything was locked away.
"The signing of the initial eight players is the first step. Hopefully, now other players will follow. I have said it all along, Newcastle's location and the cost of living here will be a recruitment tool, especially now we have shown we will have a competitive team."
As well as the recruits, locals Carl Manu, Dave Puchert, Nick Dobson, Tiueti Asi and Dane Sherratt have committed.
The Wildfires recorded two wins and a draw to finish 11th out of 13 teams in a shortened 2020 season.
"We learned a lot from last season and are aiming for the top six at a minimum," Coleman said.
The plan is for the new arrivals to be aligned with local clubs.
"It's important that we are connected to the local clubs," Coleman said. "I don't want it to be like it was 20 years ago, when the Wildfires were totally separate.
"We are looking to recruit for the first two or three years and hopefully we have a strong enough brand that our best juniors will stay in town. The next generation comes through and they are all Newcastle kids."