The Maitland Pickers collected the Newcastle RL minor premiership with an emphatic 34-0 victory against Central Newcastle at the Maitland Sportsground on Saturday.
On a huge day for the club, Maitland's undermanned reserves and under-19s also were both victorious to set up what should now be an unassailable lead in the club championship.
The reserves, who had 16 men, claimed a 24-18 win in the dying minutes and the under-19s, featuring four under-17 players in a 15-man side, defeated the Butcher Boys 28-0.
But perhaps the most incredible performance came from the Pickers Ladies League Tag team who defeated Central Newcastle 12-8 and then travelled to Hudson Park where they defeated Kotara 24-0 in catch up games.
There were plenty of individual and team celebrations as well with Taj Ridley coming off the bench to make his first grade debut in a top-of-the-table side featuring 11 local juniors.
Five-eighth Chad O'Donnell celebrated the birth of his and partner Carley's daughter with a try just before half-time and a second in the final minutes of the game.
O'Donnell was joined on the scoreboard by William Nieuwenhuise, Perry Le Broque, James Bradley and Matt Soper-Lawler. Brock Lamb kicked 3/6 conversions and two penalty goals.
However, there was some back news on the injury front with centre Gary Anderson taken to hospital where he had surgery on a broke jaw.
Pickers coach Matt Lantry said it was one of the Pickers' best wins of the season.
"It's a proud day for us to be able to say we've got 11 local juniors playing in first grade and to win 34-0 with having two weeks off, the late disruptions of guys out it was a really good win," Lantry said.
"I'm really proud as a club to be able to hang our hat on the fact that in first grade today out of our 17 players 11 were local juniors, which is on par or better than any other club in the competition.
"The only two clubs who have more are Souths and Lakes who are last and second last.
"It's not a right as a local junior to play, we want to make sure they are ready to play first grade and it's about having the quality around them.
"It shows that if you are a Maitland kid there is a pathway here if you are prepared to be a good person, be humble, be disciplined, train hard and have the right values around our club.
"You'll get a shot if you are performing well and that's what we've been prepared to do."
Fullback Daniel Langbridge was a late withdrawal with neck soreness on Saturday morning. His place was taken by William Nieuwenhouse, from Singleton, who continued on his return from a knee injury suffered in last year's President's Cup campaign.
Ridley also came into the team for his debut with a strong performance in the final 20 minutes at lock and Tom Cant continued his development playing 80 minutes at hooker.
Lantry said he went with Cant in the role to see how he would handle it and he was really pleased with how well he performed.
"It gives us more flexibility with our bench. We didn't want to carry another hooker on the bench if we could get away with it, we know Tom can fill that role if there are injuries," he said.
"I'm really proud of Taj as well, he is such a hard worker who has been knocking at the door of selection for first grade. He doesn't whinge he just goes about his work and it's through his performance at reserve grade that he was given him that opportunity."
It was Maitland's first game in two weeks with Covid-draws in round 14 against Lakes United and round 15 against The Entrance.
However, far from being an extended holiday, the Pickers squad was put through an intensive training period over the break from games.
"We were really hard on our guys in the last two weeks to work on their conditioning levels and use it as a bit of a springboard into the back end of the year," Lantry said.
"I take my hat off to the guys they worked hard, it wasn't enjoyable but to be able to get that two week solid block of conditioning into them and miles in their legs leading into what will now be a major semi-final in week two for us is like gold."
The Pickers are away to Macquarie Scorpions and host Western Suburbs in the final two rounds.
In a special ceremony before the game, players from both teams lined up to pay tribute to former Pickers president Trevor Varley.
Meanwhile, Cessnock Goannas have climbed to second on the table with a 40-16 win against Macquarie Scorpions.
The Goannas were one point behind Central on the ladder going into the game, but with the Butcher Boys losing to Maitland, they are now a point clear on 22.
The Scorpions remain in fourth place on 19 points. They host the Pickers next week.
The Goannas have a Covid-draw against The Entrance before finishing the season in a Coalfield Derby against Kurri Kurri at The Graveyard.
It was a disappointing day for the Bulldogs who were defeated 34-28 by Lakes United at Kurri Kurri on Saturday. The Bulldogs take on bottom side Souths at Townson Oval next week.
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