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REAL NRL: Understrength Pickers hunt down Tigers

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If the Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) play-off series is anything like the weekend’s clash between the Maitland Pickers and The Entrance Tigers, then local fans are in for a treat.

Befitting their respective positions on the ladder before the showdown, second versus third, it was the defending premiers who eventually prevailed 25-18 over the Central Coast outfit at No 1 Sportsground on Saturday 27 May.

However, the combatants were locked at 18-all, with less than 10 minutes remaining on the clock.

And, even then, Maitland did not seal the victory until the dying stages when centre James Bradley put the issue beyond doubt.

The Maitland Pickers celebrate another win on Saturday, with representatives from the surrounding junior rugby league clubs. Photo: Rod Thompson

“It wasn’t one of our best performances,” Pickers assistant coach Darren Taylor said.

“I thought we were slightly clunky in attack, especially after a disjointed week.

“Obviously with Brock (Lamb) out, you could tell the impact he has on our team, with regards to our organisation and set finishes.

“We missed Gary Anderson as well.

“So, I felt we were a bit off the pace.

“But, I was happy to get the two competition points in the end.”

Taylor praised The Entrance, who have come along in leaps and bounds this season, too.

“They’re a great side,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“The Tigers have such a big physical presence through the middle third.

Ex-Muswellbrook Ram Bailey Taylor scored a scintillating try against The Entrance. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

“And, what that does do is it requires you to get more individuals into the tackle.

“Then they’ve got an offload threat as well.

“So, that saps more energy defensively… it fatigues you pretty quickly.

“They’re well-coached and they’ll be there at the end of the year when the whips are cracking.

“In the meantime, we’ll turn our attention to our next task, Kurri Kurri.”

The Entrance’s mentor Jamy Forbes admitted he wasn’t too perturbed by the result.

“You don’t win a comp in May,” he said.

“The effort was there; we just dropped a bit in the execution.

“However, we’ll learn from it.

“Maitland is a benchmark team… and we went toe-to-toe with them for 75 minutes.”

The Entrance Tigers’ prop David Fifita charges into the fray in his last outing for the club. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

In fact, the Tigers struck first when a high spiralling kick was fumbled and halfback Jack Burraston raced through for the simplest of tries. Harrison Mulligan missed the conversion, leaving it 4-0.

The Pickers responded almost immediately, as centre Matt Soper-Lawler stormed onto the ball to touch down out wide. Chad O’Donnell failed to convert, tying it up at 4-all.

In the 17th minute, an O’Donnell inside pass found a rampaging Sam Anderson in support. Although O’Donnell sent his shot astray, Maitland led 8-4.

That soon became 12-4 when winger Will Nieuwenhuise pushed off a couple of defenders and strolled over.

A penalty to Mulligan right on the stroke of half-time enabled The Entrance to narrow the gap 12-6.

The Tigers roared to life in the 42nd minute after prop Toby Key barged through close to the line. Mulligan raised the flags and levelled the match at 12-all.

The Pickers then posted a sensational four-pointer when winger Bailey Taylor flew above the pack to pluck a well-placed bomb out of the air. O’Donnell added the extras to put the hosts ahead 18-12.

Former NRL star David Fifita, in his final appearance for The Entrance before returning to the UK Super League, played a major role in the next try with Kyle McLean the beneficiary. Mulligan made no mistake with the goal to draw level 18-all.

It’s rumoured Fifita’s twin brother and Cronulla Sharks legend, Andrew, will link up with the Tigers in his absence.

With the encounter hanging in the balance, an O’Donnell field goal broke the deadlock 19-18 in Maitland’s favour.

Then, in the 78th minute, Bradley used his deft sidestep to bamboozle the opposition and score the match-winner. O’Donnell landed the killer blow in the hard-fought 25-18 triumph.

In other Saturday fixtures, the Wyong Roos upset table-toppers Cessnock Goannas 26-18, ending the visitors’ undefeated run in 2023, and the Macquarie Scorpions downed a gallant Lakes United Seagulls 32-24.

On Sunday, the Central Newcastle Butcher Boys drew 14-all with the Western Suburbs Rosellas, the Northern Hawks made it two on the trot, via a 50-18 win over the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs, and the South Newcastle Lions had the bye.

Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League

Denton Engineering Cup

Round nine results:

  • Macquarie Scorpions d Lakes United Seagulls 32-24
  • Maitland Pickers d The Entrance Tigers 25-18
  • Wyong Roos d Cessnock Goannas 26-18
  • Central Newcastle Butcher Boys drew with Western Suburbs Rosellas 14-all
  • Northern Hawks d Kurri Kurri Bulldogs 50-18
  • Bye: South Newcastle Lions

Round 10 draw:

Saturday 3 June

  • 2pm: Macquarie Scorpions v Wyong Roos (Lyall Peacock Field)
  • 3pm: Western Suburbs Rosellas v Northern Hawks (Harker Oval)
  • 3pm: Maitland Pickers v Kurri Kurri Bulldogs (No 1 Sportsground)

Sunday 4 June

  • 2pm: South Newcastle Lions v Cessnock Goannas (Townson Oval)
  • 3pm: The Entrance Tigers v Central Newcastle Butcher Boys (EDSACC Oval)
  • Bye: Lakes United Seagulls

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