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REAL NRL: Head Picker Lantry no stranger to success


Matt Lantry is no stranger to success.

But, even he gets a bit excited around this time of the season.

It’s probably for good reason, too, as his Maitland Pickers will attempt to go back-to-back in the Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) decider against the South Newcastle Lions at McDonald Jones Stadium this weekend.

Maitland Pickers skipper Alex Langbridge. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

After COVID-19 robbed his side of a title in 2021, after they claimed the minor premiership that year, his charges knocked over the Macquarie Scorpions in 2022 before securing the NSW President’s Cup as well.

So, Lantry knows it’s not just another game.

“I realise people say that, however there’s greater accountability in a grand final,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the winners get to hold up a trophy… the losers don’t.

“So, there’s an element of difference.

“It’s just how you handle that pressure and that expectation.

“However, I feel like we’re experienced enough to cope with it.

“Although, it won’t be easy; no decider is.

Maitland Pickers powerhouse Sam Anderson. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

“I thought we were really taken to task by Souths the other week and my guys didn’t flinch at all.

“We weren’t playing well, but we didn’t get flustered.

“They stuck to our process, executed as best they could and still came away with a tough win.”

In 2023, Maitland is following a similar path to 12 months ago.

The Pickers finished in top spot on the ladder, prevailed in the major semi and gained direct access into the “big dance”, which will be played on Saturday 2 September.

“To be honest, I actually learned a lot from 2017 when I was at Wests,” Lantry said.

“We probably under-trained a little bit then because we didn’t have the amount of footy that you probably would’ve liked heading into finals.

“But, we found a formula that worked for us in 2019.

“So, we used it again in 2022 and, hopefully, it’ll stand up this time, too.

“We had a nice solid session on Saturday morning and now we move into that shorter, sharper, quality over quantity focus with our preparation this week.”

Maitland Pickers centre Matt Soper-Lawler. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

With a weekend off, following Maitland’s 24-22 triumph over Souths on 19 August, Lantry expects to name the same squad for the all-important clash.

“We pulled up pretty well after that match,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“Faitotoa Faitotoa and Matt Soper-Lawler suffered a little bit of bone bruising around the knee.

“However, they wouldn’t miss a grand final because of that; actually, they wouldn’t miss a regular round with that type of injury.

“So, both those boys will take their places in the team and be ready to go.”

At one stage, the Pickers looked certain to face the Cessnock Goannas, who led the preliminary final 20-10, before the Lions clicked into gear.

But, Lantry wasn’t surprised to see either rival fighting it out to meet them.

“Both Cessnock and Souths showed they were worthy adversaries,” he said.

“They’ve been among the best sides all season.

“The Lions are sort of middle-third dominant; they’ve got some big bodies that you need to contain.

“Otherwise, if you don’t, Mitch Black plays off the back of that, which creates an avenue for Ryan Glanville, Angus Ernst and Reeve Howard to attack.

“So, we need to be really good in that area.

“We learned a lot the last time we played them.

“Hopefully, we’ll combat the plan that they’ll come with.

Maitland duo Brock Lamb and Gary Anderson (4) stop South Newcastle’s Harry Croker in his tracks. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

“I’d like to think we’ll be okay.

“We’ve done all the work throughout the year.

“So, it’s about being confident in what you’ve achieved previously.

“We’ve enjoyed a really good preparation… and you want to take the quickest route through, which is what we did.

“We haven’t had our bodies getting bashed up in the lead-up games.

“I feel like we’re fit and fresh.

“The boys had a fortnight off three weeks out from the play-offs.

“So, I believe we are in the best possible shape to go out and find our best performance.”

Tickets for the Denton Engineering Cup finale can be purchased now at:

Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League

2023 play-offs:

Preliminary final results

  • Denton Engineering Cup: South Newcastle Lions d Cessnock Goannas 28-22
  • Reserve grade: Western Suburbs Rosellas d Cessnock Goannas 22-8
  • Under-19s: Western Suburbs Rosellas d Maitland Pickers 20-12

Grand final draw

Saturday 2 September

McDonald Jones Stadium

  • Gates open: 9.45am
  • Under-19s: 10.15am – Lakes United Seagulls v Western Suburbs Rosellas
  • Reserve grade: Noon – Maitland Pickers v Western Suburbs Rosellas
  • Denton Engineering Cup: 2pm – Maitland Pickers v South Newcastle Lions

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