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REAL NRL: The job’s not over just yet: Soper-Lawler


Even though the Maitland Pickers secured top spot on the Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) ladder ahead of the finals series, they won’t be satisfied until they hold aloft the trophy.

That’s according to dashing centre Matt Soper-Lawler, who is fully focussed on the ultimate prize.

The Matt Lantry-coached outfit, which claimed the prestigious President’s Cup during a COVID-impacted 2020, clinched first place this season on the back of 15 victories – just one more than the Central Newcastle Butcher Boys.

However, the job’s not over just yet, admitted Soper-Lawler.

“That’s always the goal to get the minor premiership,” he said.

“So, for us, it was good to put the feet up over the weekend – and watch some exciting footy.

“But, in saying that, the intensity at training hasn’t dropped.

“We all realise there’s still plenty of work to do.”

After being the “team to beat” in 2021, before COVID derailed the Real NRL, most pundits predicted the Pickers to carry that form into this year.

And, they weren’t wrong, despite a mid-season hiccup, which saw Maitland suffer losses to the Macquarie Scorpions (21-20) and The Entrance Tigers (20-16), as well as a 22-all draw with Central Newcastle.

“I don’t think there was too much pressure on the side [before round one],” Soper-Lawler said.

“That’s always going to happen, someone being labelled the ‘favourite’.

“But, teams like the Butcher Boys and Scorpions deserve credit, too.

“In fact, there wasn’t much between the top five teams in 2022.

“It’s such an exciting, and strong, competition where you’ve got to be up for it every week.

“And, the play-offs won’t be any different.

“I personally think it’s the tightest comp I’ve been a part of.

“It just goes to show there’s class throughout [the entire Real NRL].

“Anyone who turns up on the day, they’re a chance of winning.”

Maitland will face Macquarie at No 1 Sportsground on Saturday 27 August, after the Scorpions stunned Central Newcastle 36-18.

However, Soper-Lawler remains wary of all the Pickers’ rivals.

“Clearly, Macquarie and Central Newcastle are dangers,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“Both are strong across the park.

“They’re also at full-strength; neither have many injuries to deal with.

“But, I wouldn’t rule out Cessnock either.

“They can cause an upset or two as well.

“All I know, it will be a tough finals series, no matter who we play.”

Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL)

2022 play-offs

Semi-final 1 results:

Saturday 20 August at St John Oval, Charlestown

  • Under-19s: Western Suburbs Rosellas d South Newcastle Lions 14-12
  • Reserve grade: Northern Hawks d Western Suburbs Rosellas 26-6
  • Denton Engineering Cup: Macquarie Scorpions d Central Newcastle Butcher Boys 36-18

Elimination semi-final results:

Sunday 21 August at Baddeley Park, Cessnock

  • Under-19s: Maitland Pickers d Macquarie Scorpions 34-0
  • Reserve grade: Macquarie Scorpions d Lakes United Seagulls 22-10
  • Denton Engineering Cup: Cessnock Goannas d South Newcastle Lions 26-16

Major semi-final draw:

Saturday 27 August at No 1 Sportsground, Maitland

  • 12.10pm: Under-19s – Lakes United Seagulls v Western Suburbs Rosellas
  • 1.30pm: Reserve grade – Maitland Pickers v Northern Hawks
  • 3pm: Denton Engineering Cup – Maitland Pickers v Macquarie Scorpions

Minor semi-final draw:

Sunday 28 August at Townson Oval

  • 11.10am: Under-19s – South Newcastle Lions v Maitland Pickers
  • 12.30pm: Reserve grade – Western Suburbs Rosellas v Macquarie Scorpions
  • 2pm: Denton Engineering Cup – Central Newcastle Butcher Boys v Cessnock Goannas

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