Maitland Blacks in red-hot form three weeks out from finals

BLACK WAVE: Maitland's Jono Maloney take the ball forward with three teammates in support to maintain the Blacks high-tempo attacking game.
BLACK WAVE: Maitland's Jono Maloney take the ball forward with three teammates in support to maintain the Blacks high-tempo attacking game.

There's three rounds to go to the Newcastle Hunter Rugby Union semi-finals and the Maitland Blacks are keeping things simple ... win, win, win.

The only addition is attack and defend at high-tempo and collect three bonus points.

That completed, and depending on where they finish, the Blacks finals’ manifesto is pretty much the same another three or four wins and collect the silverware.

The Blacks are building strong towards the end of the season and under coaches Mick Hickling and Ryan McCormack have the game plan and belief to go all the way.

It will be tested again on the road trip to take on University on Saturday, before home games against Lake Macquarie and Wanderers to see out the regular season.

McCormack was wrapped with the Blacks performance last week demolishing Nelson Bay with a high-tempo attacking game based on hard running, multiple players in support and daring movement of the ball.

“It’s probably the sharpest we’ve seen the backs all year with ball movement,” he said. “We were very good with ball in hand, we hardly put any passes down.

“Every time we made a break there were two or three Maitland guys around to support the player.

“We work really hard for that support of each other, it is one of the little things you can do to pile the points on.”

After a wretched run of injuries, the Blacks are finally starting to see the return of senior players with centre Jye Estatheo and tight-head prop James Robinson named in a preliminary squad on the NHRU website.

Last year’s leading try-scorer Rob Williamson was in great form last week after an extended break and there is the depth across the squad now to put pressure on virtually every spot.

Country NSW representative and regular scrum half Jono O’Toole made a cameo return in the dying minutes of last week’s game after being sidelined with an upper-ankle injury.

There’s no need to rush O’Toole back until he is fully fit as stand-in No.9 Max Stafford grows in the role more every week.

Fly-half Pat Batey was also in sensational form on Saturday and he and Stafford both crossed for two tries.

Batey’s double included a candidate for try of the year when he stole the ball off his Nelson Bay opposite Charles Fielder’s boot and broke through the Gropers defence to run 25 metres to cross the line.

Rhys Clacherty, who filled the No.10 jersey with aplomb, is still a week or two away from returning from injury and may find himself in a new role as Hickling and McCormack have the pleasant duty of balancing an increasingly fit and in-form line-up.

The mantra is every player must earn their spot in the starting XV.