The Maitland Blacks were not at their polished best but still managed to collect a bonus-point 58-19 win against University of Newcastle on Saturday to guarantee a top three finish.
Isaac Ulberg, Dale Clacherty, Josh McCormack and Max Stafford all scored doubles in the 10 try to three victory and the Blacks, currently second, can finish now lower than third irrespective of results next week.
“We lost our way got a bit distracted in the second half, but in the end it was a good win,” co-coach Ryan McCormack said. “Five points cements our top three finish, which is most important of all.”
“It wasn’t pretty, we won ugly and managed to win 58-19 which is extremely pleasing.
“They got a bit of a weight of possession, we got a bit scrappy and gave away a few too many penalties and played with 13 men for a period of time.”
The Blacks sit second one point ahead of Merewether Carlton and should round off an outstanding regular season with victory against bottom side Lake Macquarie who have yet to record a win this season.
The only downside to Saturday’s big win was a recurrence of an ankle injury to co-captain Chris Logan and a red-card to prop Willie Soe.
Both should be available for the finals which start on August 25 when Maitland is expected to take on Merewether in the major qualifying final at No.2 Sportsground.
“We played really well in patches, we were able to rest Max Stafford who is nursing a bit of an ankle injury,” McCormack, who played a full 80 minutes, said.
“There’s still plenty of room for improvement but we’re really looking to finals now. It’s about getting through next week and moving on.”
The Blacks were best served by young wing Isaac Ulberg, Alastair Fraser, Travis Brooke and star 2018 recruit Carl Manu.
“Carl has played every minute of every game for us this season. In the 60th minute yesterday he ran 70 metres to score a try.
“Alastair Fraser played really well coming in for Nick Davidson.
“He has really stepped up as the season has gone on. It’s a shame for him that we’ve got the calibre of players we have, otherwise he would be there starting in first grade every week.
“Travis Brooke, stood up when he needed to, and his knee seems to recovered really well.
“He is a pretty driven individual and he does a hell of a lot of rehab to the point where he is even rehabbing on Saturday morning before games.”
McCormack said the club was in a strong position going into the finals.
“You get an injury in the backs and we are able to bring on Rob Williamson. It’s a good place to be in.”