The Maitland Blacks third grade team carries the club's final hopes of a senior premiership when they take on Wanderers at Newcastle No.2 Oval on Saturday.
The Blacks fourth grade team put in a brave effort but eventually fell 12-7 to Merewether Carlton in Friday night’s grand final.
Kick off in today’s third grade grand final is at 11.35am.
The Maitland Blacks plan to cap off their 140th anniversary celebrations with third and fourth grade premierships on the weekend.
A title wins will also be a fitting farewell for third grade coach Luke Cunningham, who will play his last game for the Blacks to end one of the club’s most decorated careers.
Cunningham holds the Blacks record as the most capped first grade back, was captain of the last Blacks first grade side to make a Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union grand final in 2010 and won the club best and fairest in 2006 and dearly wants one last premiership.
“It’s been a huge year for the club with every grade team making the finals and our thirds, fourths and colts all in grand finals,” Cunningham, who is battling a hamstring strain to be fit, said.
“I think it reflects a real cultural shift that close enough is not good enough that our first grade coaches Mick Hickling and Ryan McCormack have brought to the club over the past two years.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had all our teams in the finals and a great year in that respect, but we really need to cap it off with a couple of premierships.”
The Blacks fourth grade team kicks off the quest on Friday night against Merewether Carlton in Friday night’s grand final at Newcastle No.2 Sportsground.
Fourth grade put in their best defensive effort of the season to defeat Hamilton 26-0 to progress to the grand final. Merewether beat Southern Beaches 43-12 in the other semi-final.
The Blacks meet Wanderers in Saturday’s third grade grand final, also at No.2 Sportsground, after a 12-all draw with Hamilton in the preliminary final.
Maitland, who were minor premiers, progressed to the decider courtesy of finishing higher on the ladder.
Wanderers defeated Maitland 24-20 in the major semi-final to go straight into the grand final, but Cunningham says the Blacks will have a completely different attitude this time around.
“We’d beaten Wanderers by 20 points in the last round and I think a few of our guys might have been guilty of thinking we would cruise straight through to the grand final,” he said.
“We are determined not to make that mistake again.
“We have plenty of scoring power, we came home strongly against them in the semi, but grand final wins are built on defence and we need to be solid in defence right from the start.”
Apart from his own injury concern, Cunningham had a full squad to choose from and has included several players with first grade experience in a side which has successfully blended experience and youth.
“I’ll see how I pull up after training on Thursday night, but I’ll be doing everything I can to run out and get one last win.
“If I can’t get up we have plenty of talent to cover me in the halves.”
Maitland Backs Third XV: Sapati Peniata, Dan Runchel, Kurt Courtney, Bailey Skinner, Alex Hanks, Nick Davidson, Dave Currey, Sean O’Connor, Luke Cunningham, Sam Ralph, Alex Everett, Adam McCarthy, Joel Collison, Jeremy Mann, Alex Golledge. Reserves: Danny Lewer, Jock Barry, Ryan Vesper, Lachlan Mahoney, Jacob Dorn, Luke Rees, Junior Polaio, Alex Wilmore.