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REAL NRL: Pickers aren’t finished yet, promises Soper-Lawler


Maitland’s strike centre Matt Soper-Lawler has declared the high-flying Pickers “aren’t done with yet”.

The Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) powerhouse not only defended its Denton Engineering Cup in 2023 but rode the wave of success to capture its second successive NSW President’s Cup, too.

The 32-10 victory over the Ron Massey Cup titleholders St Marys Saints at CommBank Stadium, Parramatta, on Sunday 24 September was the club’s third trophy in the state-wide competition.

Maitland stunned the Glebe-Burwood Wolves 17-16 in 2020 and smashed the Hills Bulls 36-12 in 2022.

Ironically, the only season the Pickers haven’t won was in 2021, when the tournament did not proceed.

Soper-Lawler, who scored a try in the opening set to rock St Marys at the weekend, said the players were never sick of winning.

“(Five-eighth) Chad O’Donnell admitted the same thing after the Newcastle Rugby League grand final,” he explained.

“That’s the mentality we have here.

“We’ve just got a wonderful crew who work hard for each other.

“We are best mates off the field, too, so it makes triumphs like this so much more sweeter.

“And, if anyone thinks we’re finished, they’d be wrong.

“We want to be back here for the next three, four or five years, so it’s a long-term goal.

“We’re keen to create a legacy for the Maitland Pickers.”

Soper-Lawler said he wasn’t totally surprised by the side’s quick start.

Maitland led 20-0 by half-time, thanks to three early tries.

“We played very similar in the Real NRL decider,” he explained.

“But, scoring a try in the first 90 seconds was great.

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to be there in the right spot.

“It certainly took care of the nerves early.

“However, I thought out defence was pretty good as well.”

It’s been a phenomenal four-season period for the Pickers.

The Matt Lantry-coached outfit secured the NSW President’s Cup in 2020, claimed the Newcastle Rugby League minor premiership (by eight points) 12 months later before the play-offs fell victim to COVID-19, snared the Denton Engineering Cup and NSW President’s Cup double in 2022 and repeated the dose in 2023.

“It’s a pretty special time, especially for me and a couple of the other guys,” he said.

“We debuted for Maitland at 18-year-olds in 2015… and collected wooden spoons after wooden spoons after wooden spoons.

“Then, a few of us went away before returning in 2020.

“What Matt, Daz Taylor and the coaching staff have brought to the club, the blokes he’s picked up along the way, it’s just such a wonderful thing.

“I can’t speak highly enough of what the board has done either.

“They, along with Club Maitland City and A-Plus Contracting, have got right behind us and it’s paying dividends now.”

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