Todd Edwards has heard all the innuendo.
That the Cessnock Goannas didn’t win a real title in 2020, it was a “Mickey Mouse” format while others called it the “COVID-comp”.
But, the criticism is water off a duck’s back, according to the highly-respected coach.
No matter what anyone says or thinks, history will show Edwards guided his team to Newcastle Rugby League first grade glory in one of the toughest seasons on record.
“After all the grand finals we’ve been in, we still cop it anyway,” he stated.
“In fact, it’s happened for years.
“People forget, the kids played for nothing [last season] and worked just as hard.
“Like I’ve said 100 times, the four sides that were left – and this is nothing against the teams who didn’t make it – would have held their own in any other Newcastle Rugby League year.
“Wyong, South Newcastle, Western Suburbs and ourselves would have won more than they lost in a normal season.
“Yeah, it’s got back to me about the so-called COVID-comp, how it was weaker – and all that rubbish.
“However, it’s all the heroes behind their computers.
“They can say what they like but they never put their names to anything.
“I just ignore it.”
Even though the Goannas outscored Souths four tries to one, to prevail 20-6, and captured the honours at the Maitland Sportsground in October, Edwards admitted that victory wasn’t the most pleasing aspect of Cessnock’s campaign.
“This is going to sound funny, but it was the low maintenance group at the club,” he said.
“There were no whingers, there were no egos.
“Sixty per cent of the squad were boys who came through the ranks at Cessnock.
“Plus, a few blokes from out Singleton way.
“I still claim from here to Denman as ‘our’ territory; I always have.
“And, I know people won’t like it.
“However, to be honest, the northern division region (now known as Greater Northern Tigers) is the best area for recruitment.
“The kids are humble, don’t expect everything to be given to them and work hard – they do not know anything different.
“That’s why I like them.”
Edwards is fully aware the defending premiers’ tag makes 2021 a whole new ball game for the Goannas, too.
“We’ve never been in this position before where we have a big red target on our back,” he said.
“I have spoken to the players about it – and it’s a rare situation to be in.
“That means we’ve got to train harder and we’ve got to be better.
“One thing we definitely know is that we’re going to have that target on our back every week.
“But, again, it’s out of our hands.
“What we can control is getting our own bed in order and being ready to go against Souths in 7-8 weeks’ time.”
That might be easier said than done, with many of the 2020 troops bidding Cessnock farewell in the off-season.
It’s a scenario, which “really disappointed” Edwards.
“This is the most bizarre thing, we’ve lost seven members of our 17 from the grand final,” he lamented.
“I’ve had two kids go to a higher level, so you can’t blame those boys.
“Brayden Musgrove just signed a two-year NRL contract with the Newcastle Knights, while Ngangarra Barker has gone up to Rick Stone at the Burleigh Bears.
“Then, we’ve got guys going to other clubs or competitions; and some who aren’t playing at all.
“Luckily, we have always had that core group of blokes and we’ve recruited okay.
“We’ll be very competitive without putting too much pressure on ourselves.
“We’ve signed Joel Edwards (Newcastle Knights, Wests Tigers, Canberra Raiders) who, with his NRL experience, will bring a lot to the joint.
“We are also getting a few local boys back who didn’t play last year for various reasons.
“So, that’s handy.
“Harry O’Brien’s been training really well.
“And, I’m looking forward to working with another newcomer Wyatt Shaw, from Wyong.
“He seems very promising; a physical, big human.
“For now, we’ll continue to work hard and get our standards right.”
One thing’s for certain though, it will be a busy period for the Cessnock outfit moving forward.
Firstly, they host the Newcastle Knights in an eagerly-awaited trial match on Saturday 20 February.
After a week’s rest, they’ll lock horns with the Macquarie Scorpions at Lyall Peacock Oval, Toronto, before meeting the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs in their regular Charity Shield encounter on Saturday, March 13.
Ironically, the Goannas kicks off their Newcastle Rugby League season against fellow grand finalists Souths at the Cessnock Sports Ground on Saturday 27 March.