This weekend will go a long way toward sorting out the top four in the Newcastle Rugby League competition for 2012 as the strongest teams this season – Coalfields trio Maitland, Kurri Kurri and Cessnock and Newcastle powerhouse Western Suburbs – go head-to-head in a
blockbuster sixth round.
Only four points separate them on top of the competition ladder and at 3pm on Saturday afternoon, only 10 kilometres apart at Maitland and Kurri sportsgrounds, the squads will clash for 80 minutes of finals type football.
Two-time defending premiers Maitland will host unbeaten competition frontrunners Cessnock in a replay of the 2010 decider while last year’s grand finalists Wests will travel to meet the undefeated Kurri, who are en route for their fourth straight semi-final appearance. The significance of this weekend has not been lost on Western Suburbs coach Craig Miller.
“This is a fantastic weekend,” he said. “They are two big clashes between the four strongest teams in the league so far this year.”
Miller’s men have already come up against Maitland and Cessnock, going down on the road on each occasion – Firstly to Maitland 26-10 in the opening round, a grand final replay, and then to Cessnock 22-8 on Friday.
This weekend’s meeting with Kurri Kurri gives Miller and his troops a chance to round out their look at what he describes as the big three.
“They [Maitland, Cessnock, Kurri Kurri] have been the benchmark so far,” he said. “We have played Maitland and Cessnock already so this [match against Kurri] is our last chop at the top three and what they look like.
“The Coalfields teams are the big three and as much as it hurts us to admit, we [Western Suburbs] are outside of that in fourth.
“But if we can keep in touch with the top three and even up the score at home, we will be in with a fighting chance at the right end of the season.”
Miller was dealt harsh blows before a ball was even kicked this year with the de-registration of Brad Murray by the NRL following his involvement in last year’s betting scandal, halves partner AJ Davies joining the Newcastle Knights and powerful prop Mitchell Garbutt shifting to the Melbourne Storm.
“We’re not as settled as we have been previously with injuries, suspensions and blokes leaving,” he said. “We have no recognised halves and we lost three front-rowers, which we didn’t bank on and which is hard to replace.”
The Coalfields trio all featured in the 2010 finals series but this would be the first time since the 1980s, or earlier, that each have figured so high on the competition ladder in the one season.
Both matches kick off at 3pm.