It was with mixed emotions that Jono O’Toole received the unexpected call to play halfback for the Maitland Blacks.
On the one hand it was a return to a position he played throughout his entire junior career but on the other he was taking the place of club mate Luke Cunningham.
The Blacks skipper had been dropped by coach Geoff Golledge in place of O’Toole for Saturday’s Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union clash against competition leaders Hamilton at Passmore Oval.
This followed the Blacks 35-26 loss to Southern Beaches last round and O’Toole, who had filled in for an injured Cunningham at the base of the scrum last season, has been thrown into the hot spot after being in and out of the top grade during 2012, mainly at fullback.
“It makes you or breaks you I guess,” O’Toole said. “I’m looking forward to getting in there and having a go and the challenge of playing a team like Hamilton – you don’t get much of a bigger test than that.
“But I felt sick in the stomach when they told me about it [me coming in for Cunningham]. Three games away from 150 and he deserves it.
“We are good mates and he looked after me when I first came into grade because he was a few years older than me.
“It would be much better if we were playing in the same side – but I have to just try and get my mind set right now.”
O’Toole, who made his first grade debut in 2008, is not only following in the footsteps of Cunningham but his Anderson Medal winning father Tim, a Blacks halfback and the last coach to lead the club to a top grade premiership (1998-1999).
Winger Rob Williamson also drops back to seconds to make space for Michael Hendry.
Hooker Dan Runchel takes over the captaincy.
Kick off is 2.30pm.
MAITLAND BLACKS XV: 1. Jon Runchel, 2. Dan Runchel (c), 3. Dan Leadley, 4. Hugues de Rocquigny, 5. James Howell, 6. James Johnston, 7. Chris Farmer, 8. Michael Howell, 9. Jono O’Toole, 10. Ryan McCormack, 11. Jayde Lantry, 12. Jordy Lantry, 13. Matt Jarrett, 14. Michael Hendry, 15. Dillon Rowney