Maitland Blacks third and fourth grade teams make way into grand finals

The Maitland Blacks will have two teams in action on grand final day with third and fourth grade both progressing from the weekend's preliminary finals.

The Blacks and Hamilton could not be separated at full time in the third grade preliminary final finishing with a 12-all draw after the Greens led 12-5 at half-time.

Maitland, who claimed the third grade minor premiership, progressed to the grand final as the higher finishing club at the end of the regular season.

It sets up a tantalising grand final against Wanderers, who beat Maitland 24-20 in the major semi-final.

Fourth grade booked a spot in next Friday’s grand final with a 26-0 win against Hamilton. The Blacks will meet Merewether Carlton in Friday night’s grand final at Newcastle No.2 Sportsground after Merewether beat Southern Beaches 43-12 in the other semi-final.

Maitland Blacks president and fourth grade player Ben Emmett said the semi-final win was the Blacks’ best defensive effort all year.

Emmett said the team would be confident going into the grand final despite Merewether having the upper-hand in results this year.

The Greens won the most recent encounter 21-19.

“It should be a ripper game, not much has separated us all year. On the back of our defensive effort on Friday night I give us a good chance,” he said.

Third grade coach Luke Cunningham expects a tough encounter against Wanderers in their grand final at Newcastle No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.

“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.

“They got us on attitude and we had to come through the hard way. We won’t make that mistake against them again.”

The Blacks are the reigning joint third grade premiers with Merewether and will take a strong mix of youth and first grade experience into the grand final.

The third grade team was a major beneficiary of the club’s increased depth this season.

Regular first graders Nick Davidson, Sap Peniata and Junior Poloai all qualified to play in the third grade finals through a combination of returning from injury and work commitments preventing them from first grade starting XV selection.

Cunningham said the three senior players presence was invaluable against Hamilton, whose line-up was liberally sprinkled with first grade experienced players.

He said Adam McCarthy and youngsters Alex Hanks and Bailey Skinner were his side’s best performers.

“We were able to use all our reserves and they injected a lot of energy and enthusiasm and helped us clinch the draw in the end,” he said.