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NEWRL: Pickers determined to maintain the rage in 2024

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If anyone thinks the Maitland Pickers will take their foot off the pedal in 2024, you clearly don’t know coach Matt Lantry and his charges.

A dominant force since the start of the decade, they’re determined to maintain the rage again this season and enter the club’s history books in the process.

After being “robbed” of a Newcastle Rugby League (NEWRL) title in 2021, due to COVID, Maitland claimed the 2022 and 2023 honours at the expense of the Macquarie Scorpions and South Newcastle Lions respectively.

Not only that, the Pickers also secured the NSW President’s Cup in 2020 and 2023.

So, they’re highly motivated to claim the NEWRL hat-trick.

Lantry
Maitland Pickers head coach Matt Lantry. Photo: Rod Thompson

“That’s the goal,” Lantry said.

“We’re aiming for three premierships in a row.

“There’s an argument to say that it’s four, due to 2021, however that’s another debate for another day.

“For us, to officially snare three consecutive crowns, it would be a significant achievement.

“Maitland hasn’t achieved that since the 1950s… 56, 57 and 58.

“We can then be on par with a team – achievement wise, not so much in regards to playing rosters – that’s considered to be the Pickers’ best.

“So, that would be a nice little record to hang our hat on.

“However, the first month of the competition will be really important, getting off to a good start and setting ourselves up from there.”

I think the day itself (Magic Round) is a great concept,

Matt Lantry

While most rival squads returned to the training paddock in December, Maitland’s Denton Engineering Cup outfit began its title defence mid-January.

“Pre-season’s been good but a bit disruptive, too,” Lantry said.

“We had six blokes in the rep program for the Rebels, so we missed them, while a couple of others got married.

“The club obviously supports those things; it’s just the fact that a few guys were a bit hit and miss with other commitments and that’s part and parcel at a local level.

“But, we’re really lucky that we’ve got a great squad that’s dedicated.

“Plus, all those guys came back in great shape.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know if there’s too much benefit in beginning in November or December, as you essentially have most of January off.

“Blokes are away with family and whatnot, so we aimed to kick-start mid-January.

“And, when you go right to the back end of September, you need to give the boys a decent break as part-time footy players.

“Having said that, we did do a few things in December… we focused on our 17s and 19s in that period and a few grade guys came along and took part in some of those sessions as well, just to get moving.”

Pickers
The Maitland Pickers successfully defended their Denton Engineering Cup at McDonald Jones Stadium. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

Lantry will also undertake “juggling” duties in 2024 with three of his stars – James Bradley, Gary Anderson and Reid Alchin – all involved in the Newcastle Knights’ NSW Cup set-up as well.

“It’ll be a week-to-week proposition with them,” he said.

“Just something we’ll need to manage for a little bit.

“However, I’m really happy for those guys to have those opportunities.

“It’s a good reward for them for the past few years.

“And, on the other side of the coin, it’s a chance for someone else to step up when they’re not available.

“It’s one of the reasons we signed former NRL player Ethan Parry.

“He’s a real good quality.

“Then there’s Jye Bieman King and Jackson Eckford, who’ll be looking for some opportunity.

“We have the potential to lose our right edge, at any particular point, so we needed to bolster our depth to strengthen what we put on the park week-in, week-out.

“So far, we’ve also played a couple of trials.

“We tackled the Bay (Northern Hawks) three weeks ago and won 32-6, although we didn’t play the rep guys or Sam Anderson, Alex Langbridge and Brock Lamb.

“We gave some young guys a go, had a good look at them and I was really happy with that trial.

“Then we met Wyong on Good Friday and got beat 22-10.

“That was disappointing… but we probably only played our starting 13 for somewhere between 50 and 60 minutes.

“Again, we looked at blokes in different positions and whatnot, as well as just throw a few things around.

“It was a lacklustre performance, which I guess you get with trials.

“So, we have to make sure they’re ready to go and show the Bay plenty of respect come round one, it should be a good contest.”

Matt Lantry celebrates the premiership victory with his squad. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

That’s when NEWRL will host its inaugural Beer Footy and Food Festival/Brydens Lawyers Magic Round at No. 2 Sportsground on Saturday 13 April.

The Entrance Tigers, Lakes United Seagulls, Wyong Roos, Kurri Kurri Bulldogs, Macquarie Scorpions, Cessnock Goannas, Western Suburbs Rosellas, Central Newcastle Butcher Boys, Northern Hawks and Pickers are scheduled to fly the local flag.

“I think the day itself is a great concept,” Lantry told the Newcastle Weekly.

“Hopefully, there will be plenty of people there, indulging in good food, a few beverages and watching all the first grade games at one venue.

“The challenge for the league now is how they manage it going forward and if clubs are prepared to give up a home game, which attracts some income.

“I’m sure they’ll sort that out but it’s a wonderful inception on the calendar.

“So, with any luck, the community gets behind it to make sure it remains an annual event.

“As for us, we’re just focusing on the Hawks.

“I know they’re still finding their way as a district club in first grade but I believe they’re a good footy team.

“Brad Tighe’s working his backside off with Andrew Chapman and the committee to establish themselves and provide a pathway for kids in Port Stephens.

“They’ll be ready to go [in round one], I don’t believe we can take much out of the trial.

“Tyler Randall will come back into that team as well, which is super huge for them.

“Ethan Ferguson is no slouch in the outside backs either.

“He’s got great credentials, coming from the Australian Schoolboys.

“The Bay have recruited well and have some good young kids around them.

“So, they’ll be there to see where they’re at and take us on early in the in the competition.”

Pickers
The Maitland Pickers celebrate another try in the Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League grand final. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

With several ex-NRL players in the NEWRL fold this year, Lantry is fully aware Maitland’s campaign won’t be easy.

But, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“To be the best, you need to beat the best,” he said.

“Some clubs have gone really heavy with their recruitment.

“We, on the other hand, boast a steady crew that’s been together for a little while.

“So, we’re backing our young kids to come through… retention was more important for us this season.

“It’s going to be a tight comp, there’s no two ways about it.

“Anyone who says they’ve comfortably picked the top five, I think it’s more a case of throwing darts at the board because it’s just so open.

“If you’re a shandy off, you’re a chance of getting beat.

“The NEWRL product is an exceptional competition played at a great level week-in, week-out.

“All our games should be contests with the rosters that clubs have put together.

“Look at Kurri, they’ll have Blake Ferguson and Terence Seu Seu, who’ll make a difference.

“However, just like any team, you want to stay as healthy as you can.

“Your depth gets tested with injuries and things like that.

“So, it’s one thing to recruit, but you also need to retain guys and build that quality in your reserve grade side.

“That’s an area I’m really happy with here at the Pickers.

“What we have got is as good as anywhere, with that next man up mentality.

“I know they’re ready to go because now they’re quality players and they’re a competitive team.”

Beer Footy and Food Festival/Brydens Lawyers Magic Round

(Saturday 13 April, No. 2 Sportsground)

  • Gates open: 11am
  • Noon: The Entrance Tigers v Lakes United Seagulls
  • 1.45pm: Wyong Roos v Kurri Kurri Bulldogs
  • 3.30pm: Northern Hawks v Maitland Pickers
  • 5.15pm: Macquarie Scorpions v Cessnock Goannas
  • 7pm: Western Suburbs Rosellas v Central Newcastle Butcher Boys

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