The Maitland Pickers are calling on all under-16 and 17 players in the region to join the club's ground-breaking new junior program.
The Pickers have assembled a hugely experienced and successful coaching panel which includes former Maitland first grade coaches Trevor Ott and Daryl Johnston and Australian schoolboy and Knights junior Luke Mercer.
The coaching panel for the two under-16 and one under-17 teams will be overseen by Chris Brennan, one of country rugby league's most successful mentors, as the Pickers junior development coordinator:
Maitland first grade coach Matt Lantry said it was an exciting time for the club to be able to run under-16 and 17 teams again.
"It's a bit ground-breaking in a sense, we've had them (under-16s and 17s) before but it has been a bit of a battle over the last six years to get junior teams under our banner again," he said.
"The sooner we can get kids into a Maitland Pickers jumper the sooner they create an affection for the senior club and want to come through and play."
Lantry stressed that the program was for players of all abilities and not just for an elite few.
"We wanted to show the kids and people of Maitland that we are serious about these kids and hence we've got three of the best coaches you can get in our region coaching these three teams along with one of the best country-based coaches there's been in Chris Brennan overseeing the program as a junior development co-ordinator," Lantry said.
"For us to now have 16s and 17s we want to show the community we're here for the long-term and we're a professional and progressive club and part of that is embracing our juniors from our affiliate clubs.
"We still want players in all age groups and we need to I think to dispel the perception out there that it is just for the elite players but it's certainly not. We want players of all abilities to come in and take part and be part of it."
Ott, Maitland's 2011 first grade premiership coach, will coach the Combined Maitland Black U16s.
After a second stint at the Pickers from 2015-17, Ott has most recently been involved Manly's junior programs including the under-20s this year until the competition was halted because of Covid-19.
Mercer will coach the Combined Maitland Black U16s after claiming the 2019 open grade premiership with the Pickers.
Johnston, a four-time first grade Newcastle RL premiership winning players and one of the best five-eighths of his era, will coach the under-17s.
"Daryl won three first grade premierships with Kurri Kurri, he was five-eighth playing outside Steve Linane and then won a premiership with Lakes as well," Lantry said.
During a four-year stint coaching at Lakes he took the under-20, third grade and reserve grade teams to grand finals and he was first grade coach at Maitland in 2016.
Brennan's hugely impressive resume includes five first grade premierships coaching at Eden Tigers, Griffith Black and Whites and Temora Dragons, two Clayton Cup wins with Eden and Temora, a country under-18 championships with Central Hunter and senior rep coach for Monaro and Norther Division.
The club held an information evening last Wednesday and the first training session on Friday. Training will continue on Wednesday and Friday afternoons at Maitland Sportsground. Any perspective players can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.