Pickers welcome Barker, Dent and Birch back to halves

DYNAMIC: Nganarra Barker returns to the Pickers line-up after playing with the Gold Coast Titans under 20s.
DYNAMIC: Nganarra Barker returns to the Pickers line-up after playing with the Gold Coast Titans under 20s.

UPDATE

Saturday's trial match between the Maitland Pickers and Cessnock Goannas has been cancelled due to rain.

The Goannas advised that on advice from the Cessnock Sportsground ground manager the game could not proceed with further rain predicted for Saturday.

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Pickers fans get their first chance to see star forward Dane Tilse in Maitland colours when the Pickers travel to Cessnock for a trial game.

Tilse will partner Rob Mason in the front row, with Jarrod Smith at hooker.

The Pickers welcome back Ngangarra Barker, Mike Dent and Blake Birch to the club in a new-look halves combination.

Pickers coach Trevor Ott said Dent and Birch will start in the halves and Barker, who is playing his first game since breaking his leg last year, will be run through there as well.

Ott said he was taking a squad of about 20 into the game, which will be played with unlimited change.

“Luke Dorn won’t play this one, but Dane should be playing,” he said.

“We’re looking quite strong in the forward pack, the only one who won’t be playing is Jacob Sinclair who has a commitment with a rowing team.

“Tilsey will start in the front row with Jarrod Smith and Rob Mason up front.

“Brenton Horwood will play 13 and Pat Robards and Jarrod Costello are in the mix for the back row and big Seveti Rabonu will come off the bench.

“We have real depth in the forwards now, it gives us a lot more impetus when we make changes.”

Ott said the return of Barker, Dent and Birch to the club would allow Dorn to play at fullback.

“Dorny will play at fullback this season. He can jump in when he likes there and still steer us around the park and help the halves out. He’ll be a good leader from the back.

“He states and I agree with him that fullback’s where he plays his best footy and where he has played most of his career.

“He becomes the eyes for the halves as well, so he can really help those guys and they’ll be better players for it.

“Blake Birch played in the 2010 second grade grand final side for Maitland and has played a fair bit of first grade at halfback and hooker.

“He’s been through the Knights junior system played a bit of first grade with Kurri Kurri. He had a season or so off but has got some good mates at the club and has been training really well.

“Mikey Dent had been down in the Sydney competition and had looked to go to North Sydney as a feeder for Souths. He’s come back to the local area and has been going through well.

“We’ve got guys who are recognised in those positions rather than fullbacks trying to be halves.”

Ott said Dorn and Tilse had already proved their worth on the training track.

“The training has been a lot better, the attitude purely because of having some experience around them has been better as well,” Ott said. “They listen to every word these fellas say and they helping to build a real good culture at the club.”

Saturday’s trials start at noon. First grade kicks off at 7pm.