CESSNOCK coach Todd Edwards has set his competition leaders the challenge of proving they are the Newcastle Rugby League’s dominant pack by taming arch rivals Kurri Kurri in today’s top-of-the-table showdown at Cessnock Sportsground.
The Coalfields derby shapes as a blockbuster between unbeaten Cessnock and second-placed Kurri, who have lost just one of their six games this season.
Big games are won up front, and in Adam Peek, Jesse Royal, Daniel Abraham and Reegan Tanner, the Bulldogs will field four forwards boasting more than 350 games’ experience in the NRL.
Edwards said yesterday there was mutual respect between the two teams and that factor, combined with the likelihood of a parochial crowd, was likely to ensure a spirited contest.
Asked if it was Cessnock’s biggest test this season, Edwards replied: ‘‘I think so.
‘‘Taking away nothing from Maitland or Wyong, but this is a massive test, considering how Kurri are going.
‘‘We’re expecting a really tough game against a quality side.
‘‘It’s no fluke they’re running second ... in years gone by, we’ve always had one of us dominant and one struggling.
‘‘This year we’re both up there. We’re really looking forward to it and I’m sure Kurri are too.’’
Edwards had no doubt the battle in the middle would be decisive.
‘‘Their front six are very strong,’’ he said.
‘‘Abes, Jesse, Reegan Tanner, the big bloke Peek – they’re virtually an NRL pack.
‘‘If we control their front six, it will go a long way towards winning the game.
‘‘We’ll see tomorrow.
‘‘We really respect the opposition ... but our boys are really looking forward to the challenge of coming up against arguably the best pack in our comp.’’
Kurri captain-coach George Ndaira described last week’s 34-18 loss to Western Suburbs as a ‘‘bit of a slip-up’’ but was confident the Bulldogs would bounce back.
‘‘It should be a fair crowd out there tomorrow, and they’ll be fairly vocal, so it should be a good atmosphere,’’ Ndaira said.
‘‘Obviously Cessnock have won their first six games, and they’ve beaten some good teams, so going on those performances they’re probably the team to beat at the moment.
‘‘Every team goes into every game wanting to win, whoever you’re playing against, but I guess coming up against Cessnock in a Coalfields battle gets everyone a bit more excited.’’
Kurri are expected to be without veteran Todd Polglase, who has a back injury.
In today’s other games, last-placed Port Stephens Sharks face the competition’s longest road trip to take on Wyong, while Lakes United host Central Charlestown.
At Harker Oval tomorrow, West could be playing for second rung on the premiership ladder when they tackle Macquarie, and South Newcastle are at home to defending consecutive premiers Maitland.