The last time the Maitland Pickers first grade team made the finals, Jade Porter was halfback and Ron Griffiths was coach of the team which was beaten by Western Suburbs in the preliminary final.
It was 2012 and in the junior ranks that year big things were expected of Tylar Carter and Kade Hardy who were key parts of Maitland’s under-18s team which finished runners-up, beaten by Wyong in the grand final.
Six years on and Carter, who is one of the premier back-rowers in the competition, will be the only one wearing Maitland colours in Saturday’s elimination final when the Pickers take on arch Coalfields rivals Kurri Kurri at the Maitland Sportsground.
Evergreen Porter, who played in 2010-11 Pickers back-to-back premiership, and Hardy, who has blossomed into one of the Newcastle RL’s best fullbacks, will be key members of Griffiths’ Bulldogs who won their spot in the finals with a 17-10 win against Maitland at a packed Kurri Kurri Sportsground last Saturday.
Porter and Carter caught up at Maitland Sportsground for a photo shoot to publicise Saturday’s elimination and both hope it will set a new crowd record for a Newcastle RL ground at the new ground.
“I’m hoping for a ripper crowd as it is a huge game for both teams. It’s been a long while since two Coalfields teams have played each other in a finals game,” 35-year-old Porter, who will be taking part in his 11th finals campaign and chasing his seventh premiership, said.
“If the atmosphere is anything like last week at Kurri, it will be amazing.
“Both teams have a great tradition and some really good players. It will be a great game on Saturday I’m really looking forward to it.
“Semi-finals footy is what you play for, it’s a whole new ball game. You have to make sure you do all the little things right.
“It’s a far more intense game as you’re playing for keeps.
“You really need to concentrate on your game and make sure you get every part of it right.
“We’ve been playing elimination footy for the past four weeks and the season is over for whoever loses on Saturday. We want to keep on going.”
Carter, who makes his first grade finals debut on Saturday, said the Pickers needed to be more patient in attack this week.
“We made too many errors last week. We were guilty of rushing too much, trying to score off every play,” the 24-year-old said.
“We addressed that at training on Tuesday night. We’ve got a bit of a look at what they have to offer and we think we can match it.”
The Bulldogs were able to curb the Pickers scoring power on Carter’s edge of the field and will need be on top again. Centre Josh Griffiths leads the way with 11 tries, Carter has 10, Elliott Jennings eight and Luke Dorn six.
“It’s been a pretty attacking edge for us feeding off Dorny, we’ve scored 40 tries out there this year,” Carter said. “We’ve got plenty of scoring power on the other side as well with Geordie Connelly and Isaac Upton having great years as well.”
Saturday’s main game kicks off at 3pm. The Pickers’ LLT team take on Lakes United from 9.40am.
In Sunday’s qualifying finals, at St John Oval, Charlestown, the Pickers play Macquarie in the reserve grade from 1.30pm and they face Lakes in under-19s from 9.40am. Kurri play Lakes in open grade from 12.10pm.