Maitland Pickers coach Matt Lantry is keen to achieve two major goals in 2021.
Which isn’t totally surprising after the organisation walked away with the prestigious President’s Cup last season, knocking over the Glebe-Burwood Wolves 17-16 in an exciting decider at Bankwest Stadium.
But, this year heralds a return to familiar territory for the Pickers, Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL).
And, Maitland faces a big challenge to snare that title, against the likes of defending premiers Cessnock, South Newcastle, Kurri Kurri, Western Suburbs, Central Newcastle, Macquarie, Lakes United and newcomers Wyong and The Entrance.
“Everyone sets out to win the comp – that’s a given,” he said.
“However, one thing we really pride ourselves on is how we perform as a club.
“I’m not sure what format the club championship will be in 2021.
“But, we’d like to give ourselves a chance to claim it – with success in all grades.
“That’s the ultimate measure of how you’ve travelled as a club.
“Although our numbers are healthy at the moment, we’d like a few more open grade players to lob up.
“The comp’s still a couple of weeks away, so I’m sure they’ll filter through very shortly.
“I guess we’re always up against it when there’s 200 registered players in the Lower Hunter competition, just in Maitland clubs alone.
“It does put a drain on us.
“However, we’re pretty confident we can field five grades again – and build for the future.
“Potentially, we might have a women’s tackle side down the track, too.”
While the Pickers had to deal with COVID-19 issues like any other sporting organisation, they also used the “interruption” wisely.
The senior team proved that by taking out the President’s Cup, while the women’s blues tag outfit qualified for the grand final and the under-19s reached the play-offs.
“From a first grade perspective, it was a year we’ll never forget,” Lantry said.
“Having to manage COVID-19 and going through the emotions of whether we’d play or not.
“Then COVID-19 stuck; we had to endure the ebbs and flows of playing and not playing.
“We worked so hard on our pre-season, with it being sort of a new era for us and the club moving forward – and trying to be as good as we can be.
“It certainly was an emotional roller-coaster.
“We then received that opportunity to contest something different and be part of the state-wide President’s Cup.
“To win that was significantly special.
“At the end of the day, it will go down as another premiership for Maitland and the first to win an NSW competition from this area.
“But, a lot of hard work went into it.
“It’s (President’s Cup) definitely another level up.
“We had a few players who weren’t keen travelling to Sydney (due to COVID-19).
“So, we lost some from that aspect; then we brought a couple in and brought a few forward.
“There was a lot of coordinating, meetings between our committee, New South Wales Rugby League and ourselves, to ensure we could do it.”
Lantry said it was important “not to neglect” the local competition either.
“We were the only Real NRL club last year to field three open age sides, as well as under-19 and women’s blues tag teams,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.
“Our numbers, albeit a COVID-19 season, were really healthy in that sense.
“The girls reached the decider (defeated by Souths) and the under-19s got beaten in the semi by eventual premiers Central.
“Our reserves and thirds had to play up a grade, too, so our ‘seconds’ were effectively playing everyone else’s firsts here in Newcastle.
“That was a significant challenge for us.
“They were probably under the pump each and every week.
“However, it built character and summed up the culture of the Pickers with the grit and determination they showed to keep competing each match.
“As hard as that was, I think we’ll see the club better for it and the players better for the experience after playing above themselves every week in that competition.”
Lantry earmarked the likes of captain Alex Langbridge, Brock Lamb, Sam Anderson, James Taylor, Pat Mata’utia, Matt Allwood and Tom Hughes to lead the way on the paddock in 2021.