The Maitland Pickers etched their name in the New South Wales Rugby League record books when they captured the President’s Cup in 2020.
With COVID-19 ripping the heart out of most competitions in the code, the Real NRL organisation was invited to contest the unique state-wide tournament, against the likes of the North Sydney Bears, Dubbo CYMS, Thirroul Butchers, Wests Illawarra, Western Rams, Hills Bulls, Wentworthville Magpies and Glebe-Burwood Wolves.
While their expectations remained “realistic” – at first – in such elite company, the Pickers eventually stunned all before them.
In a nail-biting decider at Sydney’s Bankwest Stadium, the lads from Maitland not only prevailed 17-16 over the Wolves but returned home with a rare piece of silverware.
“It was special,” coach Matt Lantry recalled of that day back in September.
“To experience what we did with the group of people we had – the players, the staff and the committee – was great.
“Everyone gets on so well here; there’s no egos, no-one trying to go in a different direction.
“We’re all paddling the same way in the boat.
“But, to go down and be part of Bankwest Stadium and play a grand final – with Brock Lamb, a Maitland boy himself, kicking the winning field goal was really special.
“You couldn’t have scripted it any better.
“It will live a long time in the memory bank.
“We had a great time back at Club Maitland City after we’d won with family, friends and supporters.
“Hopefully, we can carry that success into the local competition, not only in 2021 but be a top three side in seasons to come.”
Pickers president Frank Lawler admitted their triumph capped off an “amazing year”.
“At the start of 2020, we knew we’d assembled a pretty good squad,” he said.
“However, we didn’t think we’d get a game of footy.
“Then we received the offer to participate in the President’s Cup, which we grabbed with both hands.
“We didn’t know if we’d go down there and get a hiding – because with no NSW Cup last year, a lot of good players dropped back to play in it.
“All the teams were really strong, especially sides like Glebe, North Sydney and Hills.
“In the end, it gave us a lot of satisfaction to lift the trophy.
“I said to Matt (Lantry) on our first trip down, when we met Wentworthville who’d won the Ron Massey Cup the past few seasons, ‘had we bitten off more than we can chew?’
“The Magpies are known as a very professional club.
“But, we beat them that day, and the belief just rose from there.”
The rest is history, Lawler stated.
“To go through almost undefeated, too, was just as amazing,” he said.
“We only lost the last home and away game to Glebe (by a couple of points).
“That was the jolt we needed to get our mind on the job and win the next two matches against two very strong sides.
“It now holds us in good stead for 2021.”