The Newcastle Rugby League competition has reached the midway point of 2012 and the Coalfields teams have dominated.
Cessnock lead the way and are unbeaten after the opening nine rounds, third-placed Kurri Kurri started on fire and won their first five matches while two-time defending premiers Maitland are well and truly in the mix in a share of fourth spot.
Maitland Mercury sports journalist Josh Callinan takes a closer look at the performances of Maitland and Kurri Kurri ahead of the second half of the season.
Where they sit: Fourth
Competition points: 10 (five wins, three losses, one wash out)
Results: Western Suburbs (26-10), Kurri Kurri (12-16), Port Stephens (70-18), Central Newcastle (40-12), Cessnock (6-26), South Newcastle (22-34), Lakes (26-16), Western Suburbs (34-28).
Points differential: 76 (236 for, 160 against)
The lowdown: The Maitland Pickers’ quest for three straight
premierships has been up and down, but they remain in touch with the top sides.
A victory in their grand final replay with Western Suburbs straight up had confidence high but a loss against Kurri Kurri the following week levelled things out.
Wins against Port Stephens and Central Newcastle were to be expected but defeats by Cessnock and South Newcastle showed a few cracks in the armour of the reigning champions.
More recently triumphs against Lakes and Western Suburbs have the Pickers’ season back on track and there’s still the chance to claim maximum points when they eventually meet Macquarie in a catch up match.
New combinations are starting to settle and moving Ryan Walker to fullback appears to be paying dividends for coach Ron Griffiths.
Form player: Billy Towers – has multiple players’ player awards and consistently scores in the coach’s points. The utility forward was rewarded with representative selection.
Stepping up: Damien Frize – returned to the Pickers this year and now looks the goods after working hard in the off-season. The prop played 70 minutes against Lakes.
Newcastle representatives: Jade Porter, Jacob Sinclair, Marco Delapena, Billy Towers
The run home: Wyong (A), Macquarie (A), Kurri Kurri (H), Central Newcastle (A), Port Stephens (H), South Newcastle (H), Wyong (H), Cessnock (A), Lakes (A) plus a catch up game against Macquarie (H).
Predicted finish: Second
KURRI KURRI BULLDOGS
Where they sit: Third
Competition points: 12 (six wins, three losses)
Results: Central Newcastle (38-4), Maitland (16-12), South Newcastle (24-23), Lakes (30-12), Wyong (28-22), Western Suburbs (18-34), Cessnock (16-24), Macquarie (8-16), Central Newcastle (48-18).
Points differential: 61 (226 for, 165 against)
The lowdown: The Kurri Kurri Bulldogs started the season with a winning feeling and reeled off five wins from as many matches.
They came from behind on four of those occasions and this included a hard fought win against two-time defending premiers Maitland.
The wheels threatened to fall off with three straight losses against classy opponents – Cessnock, Macquarie, Central Newcastle – but they have regrouped and should feature in the second half of the year.
Form player: George Ndaira – has been the difference for the Bulldogs this season directing traffic from halfback behind big
forwards packed with NRL experience.
Stepping up: Mitch Steel – has reaped the benefit of Ndaira’s presence and has produced some of his best football without the
burden of being the team’s main playmaker.
Newcastle representatives: Jesse Royal
The run home: Port Stephens (H), South Newcastle (H), Maitland (A), Wyong (H), Lakes (A), Cessnock (H), Port Stephens (A), Western Suburbs (A), Macquarie (H)
Predicted finish: Third