Newcastle Rugby: Josh McCormack takes a punt on being back in black

AT HOME: Josh McCormack will be one of the Blacks' key men against Merewether in the preliminary final at No.2 Sportsground. Picture: Hazell
AT HOME: Josh McCormack will be one of the Blacks' key men against Merewether in the preliminary final at No.2 Sportsground. Picture: Hazell

MAITLAND co-coach Ryan McCormack admits it was an “uncomfortable time” when younger brother and game-breaker Josh left the Blacks to join Wanderers.

The younger sibling’s reasons for the exit were not specifically rugby related. 

“I was in last year of uni and got an internship with a Newcastle law firm,” Josh explained. “I moved in around the corner from No.2 Sportsground and just needed a freshen up.”

 Still the decision didn’t sit well with some at Marcellin Park.

“Sometimes people don’t understand the reasons why people leave,” Ryan said.

 “There are guys there who would only ever put on a Maitland Blacks jersey. That is a strength of the club.

“I told them it was Josh’s decision, he lives down there now and that is what he wants to do. I wasn’t going to stand in his way.”

After helping steer the Two Blues to the 2017 grand final, where they went down to Hamilton, Josh had planned to take a break from rugby.

Instead, he returned to Maitland. 

And if the Blacks go on to win the premiership, breaking a 19-year drought, they may have the Hunter Valley Honey Badgers punters club to thank.

Josh and Ryan are among the 16 current and former Maitland players who make up the Honey Badgers.

We haven’t played our best footy yet. If we have 50 per cent of the ball we can beat anyone.

Josh McCormack

“I went on a punters’ club trip to the Gold Coast with a few old Maitland heads, Luke Cunningham and co,” Josh said.

“We had a bit of a chat. They can be pretty persuasive. Then Ryan asked me to come back and play off the bench. 

“A lot of those boys, Jimmy Johnston, Johnny Birrell and Michael Howell, I grew up playing footy with and against. I’m also really close to Chris Logan. It just made sense to go back and play with those guys.

“I enjoyed my time at Wanderers. There are some really fantastic people involved at the top end of the club. It’s the reason they are so successful.

“But it’s good to be back at Maitland.”

Switching between fullback and outside centre, Josh has crossed for 10 tries and along with Carl Manu added a new dimension to the Blacks attack.

“He is a quality football and makes a difference at the back,” Ryan said.

“It is my last year of coaching so he said he would give it one more crack. He is a totally different player than he was two years ago. He is a leader. Wanderers have a winning attitude.

He brought that confidence back and has really instilled it in the younger players. That is what you want your senior players to do.”

To be a chance of winning a premiership, Maitland first have to conquer Merewether on Saturday.

“We haven’t played our best footy yet,” Josh said. “If we have 50 per cent of the ball we can beat anyone.

“It’s whether we can stay in the fight for long periods of time.”

Saturday’s preliminary final at Newcastle No.2 Sportsground kicks off at 3.15pm.