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REAL NRL: Goannas determined to take sting out of Scorpions


The Cessnock Goannas are hoping their “giant-killing” run claims the scalp of the Macquarie Scorpions in this weekend’s Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) preliminary final.

With a couple of stars rubbed out by the judiciary, the outfit eliminated the South Newcastle Lions in the opening round of the play-offs.

And, they backed up that effort to jettison the high-flying Central Newcastle Butcher Boys in last Sunday’s showdown.

After trailing 16-6 at oranges, Cessnock stormed home to prevail 22-16 to be just one victory shy of a berth in the 2022 decider.

“I thought we started okay for the first 10-15 minutes,” Goannas captain-coach Harry Siejka said.

“But, that intercept try upset our momentum slightly.

“It took us a bit longer to get back into the game than what we would have liked.

“We probably had an opportunity early with Sam Apthorpe going over, however he couldn’t ground the ball.

“I think if we’d scored points then, it would have changed things.

“However, I’m thrilled with the way the guys fought back from 16-6 down.

“Even at half-time, everyone remained confident.

“I didn’t think we played overly great in that first period.

“So, I knew if we got back to what worked for us, we’d be hard to handle.

“And, that’s what we did after the break.

“We scored the points – and went on with the job.”

Siejka admitted it was “pretty pleasing” to come from behind and beat a team like Central Newcastle.

“Not many other sides in the competition would have done that,” he said.

“The Butcher Boys certainly missed Randall Briggs.

“And, I’m sure Bayden Seale’s absence will be felt by Macquarie this weekend.  

“But, throughout the season, everyone’s missed players through COVID, injuries, suspensions… and the likes.

“At the end of the day, someone always fills the gap.

“It’s a squad of 25 these days.

“You’ve got to be brave enough to put blokes in and trust them.”

While complimentary of all his chargers, Siejka singled out wingers Brent Mendyk and Josh Charles, fullback Harry O’Brien and hooker Anthony (AJ) Meleisea-Murray for special mention.

The quartet’s played a major role in Cessnock’s recent run of outstanding form.

“I knew they were good players but Brent, Josh and Harry have really impressed me,” he said.

“The past two weeks, the three of them have registered more than 1,000 metres at the back.

“That makes a big difference when you’re coming out of your territory.

“I’ve noticed it tenfold in the past fortnight – they’ve been phenomenal and chalked up a couple of hundred metres each per game.

“That’s been a massive changing point for us.

“AJ’s really stepped up, too, following the loss of Pita Godinet.

“He’s having to play a lot more minutes, however he’s really benefitted from doing that.

“He is getting a good run at No 9.”

Cessnock Goannas winger Brent Mendyk.

Siejka said the Goannas haven’t had an easy game with the Scorpions this season.

And, he knows they’re in for another huge battle at Lyall Peacock Field, Toronto, on Saturday 3 September.

“Like most finals, you need to win it in the forwards,” the ex-Penrith Panther told the Newcastle Weekly.

“I guess, for us, what we did well last week was we punched in behind the ruck, especially in the second half.

“So, getting that go-ahead and ensuring we have a decent kicking game are two key areas.

“We know Macquarie is a good side.

“However, we tend to focus more on what we can do to win the match, not so much on what we’ve got to do with them.

“While ever they have Kerrod Holland, Jeremy Gibson and Liam Higgins on the park, the Scorpions are going to be pretty strong.

“We’ll need to eliminate their time with the football and make them rush decisions.

“Our pack has to pave the way for us if we’re looking at attacking them through the middle.”

Even though he doesn’t want Cessnock to “get too far ahead” of itself, Siejka said a meeting with the Maitland Pickers in the grand final – at McDonald Jones Stadium on 11 September – would be a fitting way to wrap up the year.

“We’re done it pretty hard in 2022,” he explained.

“The Goannas probably don’t have the depth of players most rivals possess.

“So, we’ve been tested by that during the season.

“But, for us as a club, it’s a real credit to Josh Day, Cherie Douglas and the board.

“What they do behind the scenes is massive.

“So, it [reaching the decider] would be a great reward for them.

“However, and it’s a cliché, we’re just taking it one game at a time.

“Macquarie is all we’re thinking about at the moment.”

Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL)

2022 play-offs

Major semi-final

Saturday 27 August at No 1 Sportsground, Maitland

  • Under-19s: Western Suburbs Rosellas d Lakes United Seagulls 19-18
  • Reserve grade: Northern Hawks d Maitland Pickers 36-4
  • Denton Engineering Cup: Maitland Pickers d Macquarie Scorpions 42-14

Minor semi-final

Sunday 28 August at Townson Oval, Merewether

  • Under-19s: Maitland Pickers d South Newcastle Lions 28-16
  • Reserve grade: Western Suburbs Rosellas d Macquarie Scorpions 38-12
  • Denton Engineering Cup: Cessnock Goannas d Central Newcastle Butcher Boys 22-16

Preliminary final

Saturday 3 September at Lyall Peacock Field

  • 11.10am: Under-19s – Lakes United Seagulls v Maitland Pickers
  • 12.30pm: Reserve grade – Maitland Pickers v Western Suburbs Rosellas
  • 2pm: Denton Engineering Cup – Macquarie Scorpions v Cessnock Goannas

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