Maitland Blacks stalwarts Luke Cunningham and Daniel Lewer bowed out without a premiership medal but with the class and dignity which has made them champions of the club.
Cunningham, a former first grade best and fairest and captain of the club’s last first grade grand final team, and 300-plus game forward Lewer closed the curtain on their careers in the Blacks 20-8 grand final loss to Wanderers on Saturday.
It was a tough weekend for the Blacks with their fourth grade team losing Friday night’s grand final to Merewether Carlton 12-7.
There were plenty of emotions in the rooms but no regrets or recriminations after both Blacks teams put everything they had into their gutsy losses.
The effort was epitomised by left lock Bailey Skinner who was awarded the player of the match by Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union officials.
“I’m very proud of the team’s effort. They put in right to the end we just came up against a better team in Wanderers on the day,” Cunningham, the Blacks third grade coach, said after the game.
“Their defence today was incredible. We threw everything we had at them but just couldn’t get through.
“We tried to go through them, over them and around them but they held.
“A couple of momentary lapses in concentration in defence probably cost us the game, particularly with the try just before half-time which took the score out to 14-0 at the break.
“But there was no lack of endeavour and Wanderers were good enough to take advantage of their opportunities.
“We probably were guilty of not adjusting quick enough to the referees interpretation of the break down and we coughed up the ball in the ruck in a few attacking positions.”
Both defences held for most of the first half until Wanderers were able to force their way across the line through Simon Yanis.
The Blacks were camped down the Wanderers end and finally opted to a penalty to open their scoring. However, in a sign that this may not be there day Jeremy Mann’s kick hit the upright and deflected back into play to be regathered by the Wanderers.
A late, against the flow of play, long running try by fly half Mark Sherwood was a cruel blow before half time.
The two teams converted a penalty each and when Blacks wing Luke Rees scored a try out wide after a great bust by Adam McCarthy, Maitland had a real sniff of victory with the scores at 17-8 with 10 minutes remaining.
But despite repeated phases of play at Wanderers end, the Blacks couldn’t break their line.
Their hopes of victory were snuffed out with another penalty goal, but the Blacks pressed in attack to the end.