CESSNOCK coach Todd Edwards refuses to accept that Western Suburbs are not the force they were last season.
The Newcastle Rugby League heavyweights will play tonight at Cessnock Sportsground in what is the biggest game of the season so far.
After four dominant victories led by the stellar line-up of Riley Brown, Terence Seu Seu and Sam Wooden, the Goannas will begin strong favourites against the Rosellas.
Cessnock, Maitland and Kurri Kurri are the early-season title favourites.
The Rosellas, meanwhile, lack the star power of past years and have toiled for three wins from four games.
But Edwards said he would always respect any team playing in the red-and-green.
‘‘They’re never a sleeping giant in my eyes, they’re always there,’’ he said.
‘‘I don’t believe in the notion Wests aren’t what they were.
‘‘As long as Barney [Wests coach Craig Miller] is in charge and they’ve got the people they’ve got there, they are always a threat.’’
The Goannas elected to play the match tonight as Seu Seu and Wooden were unavailable tomorrow, giving both sides a shortened turnaround.
In the first month of the premiership, Cessnock have produced some of the most professional rugby league seen in the local competition.
Their speed at the ruck and ability to shift the ball to the edges destroyed Lakes United (58-12), Port Stephens (60-8) and Central Newcastle (64-24).
A 34-18 win over Wyong a fortnight ago has been Cessnock’s only challenge, and that is why Edwards is excited about facing Wests.
‘‘This will be our biggest test and these guys have been the benchmark for 10 to 20 years,’’ he said.
‘‘I want to know where we’re at and how good we are actually going.’’
For the Rosellas, Miller said stopping Cessnock big men Brendan Hlad, Dan Williams-Metcalf and Tom Pelo was the key.
‘‘It will be interesting to see with all the hype about them,’’ he said. ‘‘I know a few of their players personally like Terence, Riley and the other Brown brother [Joel], but I think the raps are pretty strong on their forwards.
‘‘The halves and Terence need them to be working well.’’ The Rosellas will welcome back skipper and hooker Matt Thurston from a hip flexor injury.
Second-rower Alec Fata and outside back Dan Phillips return for Cessnock.
Winger Chris Pyne (groin) will have a fitness test before kick-off at 8.30pm.