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REAL NRL: Pickers honour ‘Crito’ after successful title defence

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If the Maitland Pickers wanted to honour Brett Christiansen in the best possible way, they certainly did it at the weekend.

Less than 24 hours after hearing the news of the sudden passing of the club legend, and ex-Cessnock Goanna, Newcastle and Country representative, the Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) outfit dominated the South Newcastle Lions 46-10 to defend its Denton Engineering Cup title.

In front of a massive crowd – estimated at more than 4,000 people – at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday 2 September, the Matt Lantry-coached squad flexed its collective muscle from the start.

And, sadly for the Merewether organisation, the match was as good as over by half-time with Maitland leading 38-0.

Back-to-back champions: The Maitland Pickers celebrate their victory. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

“We spoke quite deeply about Crito (Christiansen) before the game,” Lantry admitted.

“Everyone knew what he meant to this club… and we knew what the Pickers meant to him.

“Crito was always at our matches and a big supporter of what we’re trying to do in this community.

“So, he was definitely with us [today].

“I just hope our win puts a smile on the faces of his family during this tough situation.”

South Newcastle Lions hooker Mitch Black. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

Even though Souths began strongly, and only trailed 8-0 after 25 minutes, Maitland flicked the switch on the back of halves Brock Lamb, named man of the match, and Chad O’Donnell controlling the play.

In the blink of an eye, the Pickers piled on five tries to effectively shut the Lions out of the grand final.

“I’ve been here four years,” Lantry said.

“And, you look back at all the times you’ve coached quality teams… that first 40 minutes was as good as I’ve ever seen.

“We trained really well in the lead-up.

“Plus, I thought we had some good planning that the boys bought into.

Maitland Pickers head coach Matt Lantry. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

“We knew Souths had their tactics; however, we were also aware of where we could target them.

“The guys just went out and executed our plan to the nth degree – and they got the rewards for it.

“I’m super proud of this bunch.”

The words “dynasty” and “legacy” have been bandied about within the Maitland inner sanctum.

And, according to Lantry, they’re not finished yet.

“We’ve talked about it,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“We captured the NSW President’s Cup in 2020 and the Denton Engineering Cups in 2022 and 2023.

“In our eyes, we won a Newcastle Rugby League premiership in 2021, too.

“When COVID disrupted the play-offs, I believe we were wrongfully denied that title.

Maitland Pickers centre Matt Soper-Lawler dives over for a four-pointer. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

“So, to us, that’s four seasons of dominance… and we’ve still got a long road to travel.

“In the meantime, we’ll enjoy this victory, take a few days off and then reset for the next challenge, defending our NSW President’s Cup in a couple of weeks.”

The Pickers landed the telling blow with seven four-pointers – to Lincoln Smith (two), Lamb, Daniel Langbridge, Matt Soper-Lawler and Gary Anderson – in the opening period.

Langbridge’s second in the 46th minute extended the margin to 42-0.

Souths, to its credit, never gave up and responded through Jarom Haines and Jhett Butler to reduce the gap to 42-10.

However, Luke Knight finished off the job.

Man of the match Brock Lamb. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

A shell-shocked Lions mentor Andrew “Bobcat” Ryan admitted he didn’t see “that performance coming”.

“It was awful, an absolute nightmare,” he said.

“Everything that could go wrong actually did in the first half.

“I don’t know what else to say.

“The year these guys have had, the effort they’ve put in for each other, wasn’t reflected out there.

“We were far from our best.

“Maitland just blew us off the park in that first half.”

Ryan did praise his boys for a strong season, which featured a 10-match winning streak.

“To be arriving here with them on grand final day, I couldn’t be prouder of them to be honest,” he said.

In reserve grade, the Western Suburbs Rosellas knocked over minor premiers, the Pickers, 14-6 while the Lakes United Seagulls’ under-19s stormed home in the dying stages to upset Wests 14-11.

Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League

2023 grand final results:

  • Denton Engineering Cup: Maitland Pickers d South Newcastle Lions 46-10
  • Reserve grade: Western Suburbs Rosellas d Maitland Pickers 14-6
  • Under-19s: Lakes United Seagulls d Western Suburbs Rosellas 14-11

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