Opposing coaches Matt Lantry, Mitch Williams and Todd Edwards are all in agreeance about one thing: the 2021 Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) season could be the closest competition in two decades.
The trio – along with a host of other players and officials from the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs, Maitland Pickers, Wyong Roos, Central Newcastle Butcher Boys, Cessnock Goannas, South Newcastle Lions, Lakes United Seagulls, Western Suburbs Rosellas, The Entrance Tigers, Macquarie Scorpions, Northern Hawks, the Real NRL and New South Wales Rugby League – kicked off the rivalry for this year’s NSWRL Denton Cup at the official launch at McDonald Jones Stadium on Wednesday night.
After COVID-19 played havoc with the code in 2020, everyone’s keen to return to the playing paddock, according to Pickers’ mentor Lantry.
“There’s no doubt it will be a strong comp,” he said.
“Especially with the Tigers and Roos now on board.”
Maitland, who captured the 2020 President’s Cup, faces the Bulldogs at Kurri Kurri in round one on Saturday 27 March.
Williams, who’ll lead the Roos into battle, admitted he was looking forward to the challenge.
“One thing we know, there’ll be no easy matches this season,” he said.
“But, all the boys are pumped.”
Wyong locks horns with the Butcher Boys, also on 27 March, at Morry Breen Oval.
Edwards, who guided the Goannas to the 2020 Real NRL crown, said it was anyone’s title this year.
“Every club appears to have recruited well, that’s going to make it tough week-in week-out,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.
“If you’re just a bit off your game, it could be costly.”
Newcastle Knights top man Adam O’Brien said the NRL organisation was keen to develop a powerful relationship with the Real NRL.
“I’ve heard great reports about the standard of the comp,” he stated.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re not fielding a Jersey Flegg (under-21) side this season.
“I’d like to see our young kids play in the Real NRL.
“It would be a great experience for them.
“Newcastle boasts a fairly impressive nursery, whether it’s with the Knights or one of the clubs in the Real NRL.
“Look at someone like Brayden Musgrove, who played for Cessnock in the 2020 grand final and joined us in the off-season before securing a contract.”
Other matches include the Goannas and Lions going head-to-head at the Cessnock Sportsground and the Seagulls meeting the Rosellas at Leneghan Oval while, on 28 March, the Tigers host the Scorpions at EDSACC Oval.
Real NRL newcomers Northern Hawks make their debut against the Butcher Boys in reserves and under-19s on Sunday.
2021 NSWRL Denton Cup
Round one draw:
Saturday 27 March –
- Kurri Kurri Bulldogs v Maitland Pickers (Kurri Kurri Sportsground) – POSTPONED
- Wyong Roos v Central Newcastle Butcher Boys (Morry Breen Oval)
- Cessnock Goannas v South Newcastle Lions (Cessnock Sportsground)
- Lakes United Seagulls v Western Suburbs Rosellas (Leneghan Oval) – POSTPONED
Sunday 28 March –
- The Entrance Tigers v Macquarie Scorpions (EDSACC Oval)
- Northern Hawks v Central Newcastle Butcher Boys (U19s, reserves – Tomaree Oval)