The pieces of new Maitland Pickers coach Luke Dorn's puzzle for the coming Newcastle RL season keep falling into place with 2016 best and fairest Geordie Connelly returning to the club in 2018.
The news comes as 2018 star signing former Knights and Raiders hooker Adam Clydsdale and 2017 best and fairest Dane Tilse led an intense training session on Tuesday.
Connelly played with the Rockingham Sharks in Perth last year after work commitments took him interstate, but Pickers president Frank Lawler confirmed the versatile back has signed with the Pickers for this season.
The Pickers continued to build their depth with Maitland junior Ethan Niszczot returning to the Maitland Sportsground after playing at Kurri Kurri Bulldogs.
Niszczot, the nephew of former South Sydney and New South Wales Blues centre Ziggy Niszczot, is one of a growing number of Maitland juniors returning to the club, including his former Bulldogs teammate Hayden Grainger who made the move last year..
Another former Bulldog, halfback Ryan Walsh, who quit the Dogs mid-season last year, has also been added to the squad.
“The team will be full of Maitland boys,” Dorn said this week. “They are all ready to bleed for Maitland.
“We may not have the most attractive squad, we may not have 10 ex-NRL players, but we’re building a squad which will change the mentality of what Maitland is all about.
“We’ll be in games and we’ll be mentally tough. That’s for sure.
“These boys are going to be ready to go in round one.”
Other players to come on board this season include another former local in Josh Griffiths, Scott Williams who played in the Ron Massey Cup in Sydney and Tim Watson from Scone, who made the 2016 Country Bulls team.
“I played a lot with Josh Griffiths’ older brother Joe, he has been out in the country a little bit. He has a good reputation and his ability at training has been excellent,” Dorn said.
We may not have the most attractive squad, we may not have 10 ex-NRL players, but we’re building a squad which will change the mentality of what Maitland is all about.Luke Dorn
“He is a local boy as well. The more local boys the better for me.
“Scott Williams is originally from up the north coast and he has been plying his trade down in the Ron Massey Cup in Sydney. He was signed for North Sydney for a period.
“He has been excellent at training, he has been really good for the group and I’m looking forward to seeing him when it comes game time.”
And then there is the tantalising prospect of fielding Adam and Luke Clydsdale in the same team.
“The final call on Luke’s availability for first grade or whether he just wants to coach and play second grade will be up to him,” Dorn said.
“I find his competitiveness is very attractive for us as a group and I can’t imagine he will be satisfied if he was playing well enough to just play reserve grade.
“Obviously to play with his brother would be exciting for him as well.”
Dorn said competition for positions would be strong, although it was too early for a call on who will start in the halves and dummy-half.
“We haven’t got that far down the line yet, we’re just trying to get out base knowledge of how we are going to play, our play calls and our defensive structures in place,” he said.
"Obviously some guys will get first crack, but in terms of who is going to play where in the halves we’re not 100 per cent sure, but we will have plenty of choices.
“It was as plain as the nose on your face that we just literally ran out of troops at the end of last year.
“I remember Jarrod Smith for the last few games was playing reserve grade and first grade. You can’t be having that, it’s not sustainable if you are going to be taken seriously and win the competition as we want to do.
“We’ve had to build up our depth and cover certain positions two or three deep.
“It’s exciting for us as a group and hopefully that will put a bit of competition in for places.
“Injuries are going to happen through the year, so as injury free as we can be we’ll have a competitive team which is hopefully fairly deep and top quality.
“We just want to get ourselves in the best possible shape we can to get ourselves ready for round one so that we come up against the best in the comp we are in those battles and we’re not going to drop away because of our fitness.
“We are working really hard on those things and hopefully it bares fruit especially in the early part of the season.”
Dorn said the move back to the Maitland Sportsground had been a major boost for the club.
“The facility has been fantastic. To be able to train on the new ground has made the world of difference both in mentality and physically as well,” he said.
“Turning up here it’s exciting, you enjoy coming out even if pre-season can be a bit of a slog at times. It’s a great surface, the grass is in great condition and you’ve got fantastic facilities in the change rooms. All that sort of stuff makes it a lot easier.
“On the physical side the wear and tear on your body is not nearly as much, there’s more give in the ground, there’s no cricket pitch to run over the back of and there’s actually grass on the field. It’s a joy.
“I’m sure a lot of people will come out of curiosity and have a look at the ground and on the other hand I’m sure there’s a lot of people who have loved Maitland but just couldn’t stomach to go up there and support us at Coronation.
“It wasn’t very good to spectate from, there weren’t a great deal of facilities and someone like my nanna couldn’t come up and watch a game.
“This facility caters for the young and old, it’s going to be nice and clean, easily maintainable and family friendly.
“Maitland people support their clubs exceptionally. If we do well we’ll get good crowds and that will help us.
“Hopefully the whole community can get behind us and we can get behind them by winning games.”