Maitland Blacks hit hard by injuries to forwards and back for Merewether clash

The Maitland Blacks go into Saturday's crucial clash with Merewether Carlton with a completely new front row.

The Blacks will finalise their team after Thursday night’s training, but are likely to be missing hooker Rhys Watson, tight-head prop James Robinson and loose-head prop for the game at Townson Oval.

Right flanker Nick Davidson has two weeks of this three-game suspension to serve.

Maitland will also be without backs Jye Estatheo, who is out injured, and Chris Martin who is unavailable.

“Rhys Watson, our hooker, is out this week with a shoulder issue. He has been carrying it for the past four weeks and needs a rest,” Blacks co-coach Ryan McCormack said.

“James Robinson is also unavailable because of his shoulder issue and James Curran is under of a bit of an injury cloud as well.

“Se effectively the whole front row might change.

“The front row has been really strong for us this year. Rhys Watson has been carrying the injury for a while but it’s now at the point when he needs a break in order to make sure he is ready to go later in the season.”

Wing Martin will be back next week for the Blacks home game against Waratah, but centre Estatheo is likely to be missing for another two to four weeks.

“There’ll be a bit of a reshuffle in the backs as well, the loss of Jye is hard, he’ll be really miss this weekend,” McCormack said.

“Although we’ve got five out and Nick Davidson obviously suspended we still back ourselves.

“We are still confident in the 15 guys we will put out there.

“Up front is going to be where it’s won, but if we can give our backs a platform they can score plenty of points.”

McCormack said Max Stafford would start at fullback this week, with Dale Clacherty moving into the centres, Chris Logan and five-eighth and Jono Maloney moving back out to the wing.Merewether were a strong team and playing for their season on Saturday.

“Rhys Clacherty is potentially going to make a return this weekend, which is at least some good news on the injury front.

“Dale Clacherty is moving into the centres, which is his preferred position, and Max Stafford comes into the side at fullback.

“Jono Maloney slots back on the wing where he has been an unbelievable finisher for us this year. His strength is to get the ball in open play and score and he will be able to concentrate more on that out on the wing.

“Max’s preferred position is halfback, but what he can bring to our side in terms of energy and a rugby brain is so valuable to have in our backline.

“Energy will need to be high against Merewether down there with their season on the line.”

McCormack said while the Blacks didn’t get a win against top-two opponents Hamilton and Wanderers he took a great deal of confidence from Maitland’s performances in their two and three-point losses.

“The last two weeks training and the games have been intense, they’ve been at max level,” he said.

“We took the opportunity on Tuesday night to freshen up a bit, have a bit of fun and give the guys a bit of a break from that full-on pressure..

“We should be fresh for Saturday and ready to take it up to them from the start.”