The Maitland Pickers can secure the Newcastle Rugby League minor premiership with victory over top-two rivals Central Newcastle at Maitland Sportsground on Saturday.
The club can also take a huge step towards securing the club championship for the first time since the premiership year of 2011 with victory in reserve grade and under-19s.
Maitland are fourth in under-19s equal on 18 points with Central (fifth) but with a game in hand. In reserve grade Central are third on 23 points with Maitland fourth on 18.
Pickers coach Matt Lantry said success in the club championship was such an important step for the club as a whole as it went about building depth and developing young talent who will stay at the club.
Maitland go into the Central clash without inspirational skipper Alex Langbridge who is expected to return for the following week's clash against Macquarie. He will be replaced in the starting line up by Nick Lawrence.
"Nick's probably a starting first grader in any other side. He has been terrific for us since joining the club and is just a great team man," Lantry said.
Brenton Horwood will undergo a fitness test to see if he lines up after being sidelined with a rib injury.
"He is probably 50-50, he has come up okay from the ribs but has been suffering from back spasms and we will need to see that he is good with that on Thursday as we won't be risking him," Lantry said.
Central will be missing key play makers Luke Walsh and Dylan Phythian, but Lantry still rates them as a strong challenge.
The battle for semi-finals spots is hotting up behind the Pickers who on 26 points are five points clear of Central (21) who are followed by Cessnock (20), Macquarie (19) and Wests (17).
Cessnock hosts Macquarie on Saturday and, if the Pickers beat Central, the Goannas could move to second with a win or fourth with a loss.
The Pickers are away to Macquarie the following week, before hosting in form side Wests in the final round.
Wests have Covid-draws against The Entrance and Wyong in the next two rounds. They are on an eight-game winning streak which includes victories over Central, Cessnock and Macquarie.
Cessnock will collect one point for a Covid draw against The Entrance in round 17 before facing Kurri Kurri in a Coalfields derby at The Graveyard in the final round.
Central play Lakes United in round 17 before Macquarie in the final round.
Lantry said he would not be surprised if there was a lot more movement in the make-up of the top five in the final three weeks of the season.
He said he was pleased with the Pickers run into the finals with games against top five teams Central, Macquarie and Wests.
"I think all the teams vying for the top five are capable any one else on their day," Lantry said.
"We certainly have no preferred opponents as they are all tough. Cessnock are coming off a 32-10 win against Central, Wests have won eight in a row and Macquarie's form is strong.
"If Central get Walsh and Phythian back they are a real threat."