Maitland Pickers president Frank Lawler has witnessed the good times, as well as the bad ones, during his stint at the Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) club.
But, even he admits 2020 was an “amazing year” for the organisation, especially when the Matt Lantry-coached side captured the President’s Cup at the expense of the Glebe-Burwood Wolves.
A Brock Lamb field goal sealed the deal 17-16 back in September.
“I love the Pickers,” Lawler said.
“I started playing [here] as a junior and returned in 2014 or 2015 as president.
“However, we’ve had our struggles over the years.
“We have been through some really rough periods, both financially and when we ended up at Coronation Oval for 18 months while the Maitland Sportsground was rebuilt.
“That wasn’t easy either – we couldn’t make any money while we were up there.
“The Maitland Leagues Club went into administration, too, which was another worrying time.
“Thankfully, Club Maitland City came along and took us on as theirs.
“That’s been a great partnership.
“But, winning the President’s Cup was terrific.”
Lawler said the Pickers’ rise to the top had not occurred over night.
In fact, Maitland last claimed a Real NRL title in 2011.
“We’ve been building here for a few seasons, firstly under Trevor Ott,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.
“He did a lot of great stuff as coach.
“Then (former NRL player) Luke Dorn came in after Trevor.
“He helped rebuild us again.
“Now, Matt Lantry’s taken the Pickers to the next level.
“He’s brought a lot of professionalism into the organisation and attracted a lot of quality players as well.
“With the support of our sponsors, and Club Maitland City, we’re in really good position.”
Despite the departure of half a dozen premiership-winning players, Lawler is backing his troops to shine in 2021.
“We should be very competitive,” he said.
“Even though we’ve lost about five guys who’ve gone back to the NSW Cup or Queensland Cup, and Cal Burgess to the Manly Sea Eagles, we had 21 players who didn’t play last year due to COVID-19.
“A number of them, like Jerome Hughes, Matt Allwood and Marco Delapena, are quality.
“They’re returning to the fold this season.
“So, we’re in a reasonably good spot.
“I’m confident we’ll do well.
“However, it will be a strong comp in 2021.
“Central [Newcastle] is one to watch out for, then you have defending premiers Cessnock, Wests, The Entrance and Wyong.
“Kurri Kurri looks good with the guys they’ve signed, while Macquarie boasts Kerrod Holland.
“So, if you don’t turn up ready to play, you’ll get beaten.”
The Pickers face Real NRL newcomers Wyong in a trial, in all grades, at Wyong on Saturday 13 March.