The Maitland Pickers under-19s are carrying the club and city’s hopes of premiership glory into Sunday’s preliminary final against Coalfields rivals Cessnock Goannas.
The young Pickers and Aberglasslyn Ants NHRL Ladies League Tag team are the sole remaining Maitland league teams in September action.
Pickers under-19 coach Nick Peate said he was confident his young charges can beat the Goannas in the preliminary final, despite losing their two encounters this season.
Only a drop goal separated the two teams in round six and the Goannas won by 10 points in round 15; however, Cessnock has been hit hard by injuries to key players since then and will be without star hooker Nick Lawrence.
Former Beresfield junior Joe Bromage poses the biggest threat for the Pickers with his powerful running game from lock and ability to link up with the back line.
“Our attitude in defence and shutting down the quick play the ball will be the keys to us winning. We can match it with any team in the comp, our biggest problem has been our defence in the middle,” Peate said.
“Their 13 is a great player, he is the one who gets them out of trouble he takes the hard carries and gives them plenty of go forward.
“Hopefully we can shut him down and stop their go forward.
“If we can control the ruck against Cessnock we will go a long way to winning as we have no troubles scoring on the edges.”
Peate said the Pickers performance in last Saturday’s elimination final against Central gave him confidence the team had learned their defensive lessons.
“If the boys show up like they did in their semi-final win against Central I don’t think Cessnock can go with them,” he said.
Both Maitland and Cessnock have lost against Lakes United this final series, but Peate said he believed with his full squad available they could beat the Sea Gulls, the reigning under-19 premiers.
“In the first semi, I had five boys play reserves the day before and couple were crook. We gave them (Lakes) a start but went into half-time in front with a comfortable lead,” he said.
“Unfortunately in the first 10 minutes of the second half we gave away too many easy penalties. We gave them the football back, we didn’t make them earn it.
“We fixed that up last weekend, the boys stepped up.”
The Pickers first grade team’s struggles with injuries meant many of the under-19s had experienced grade football playing either in second or first grade.
“Elliott Penglaze, Gary Anderson and Reeve Howard all had a few games in first grade after making their debuts this year and young Tyran Ott made his debut when he came off the interchange bench against West in the last round and handled it fine.
“We’ve had another four or five play in reserves. Some have probably gone up before their time, but they have handled it well.”
Peate expected several of the team to become regular first grade players.
“We probably won’t have Tyran Ott who is at Manly and Gary Anderson who will be with the Knights, but we’ve got a real good bunch coming through who I think will become first grade regulars.”
Unbeaten Ants title favourites
The Aberglasslyn Ants are poised to claim the major and minor premiership double and go undefeated in their debut Newastle and Hunter Rugby League Ladies League Tag debut season.
The Ants face Newcastle University in Saturday’s grand final at Newcastle No.1 Oval. Kick off is 9.50am.