PUT aside the powerhouse performances that New Zealand-born No.8 Travis Brooke has produced for the Maitland Blacks and NSW Country.
The true value of a quality overseas player shone through on a frosty Saturday morning at Marcellin Park.
Brooke and skipper Chris Logan made a special trip to Lorn to give a pep talk to the under-9s and assist in their warm-up.
“It is not just playing ability, Travis has immersed himself in the club,” co-coach Ryan McCormack said. “He gets to junior games and training when he can, he is the first at any [senior] team-building session and is always wanting to do extra sessions. He has been a real find on and off the field.”
Until this season, the Blacks have been reluctant to look outside the 2320 postcode for troops.
Brooke, who is the nephew of All Blacks great Zinzan and played alongside Logan at Currie in Scotland last season, is one of four fresh faces alongside prop James Robinson, breakaway Sapati Peniata and centre Junior Polai.
“Chris and Travis played together in Scotland,” McCormack said. “Chris floated the idea of coming over here and having a crack in Australia. We have a plethora of back-rowers but he adds something completely different. He is one of the best lineout jumpers in the competition and is an all-round player. He doesn’t mind whether he plays in the back row or the second row. For him it is all about having the right team on the paddock.”
Robinson (Merewether), Peniata (The Waratahs) and Polai (The Waratahs) have played in Newcastle previously and bring their own strengths.
“It’s something that Maitland hadn’t done previously,” McCormack said. “A lot of people highlighted the fact that we needed to get some fresh players to the club to lift us those three or four spots and into the top three, rather than be mid-pack and fighting it out every year.”
Approaching the mid-point of the season, the Blacks sit third on 25 points with four wins and a draw.
“We are probably further along than I thought we would be at this stage,” McCormack said.
“The key personnel changes – the four new guys – bring that confidence. When we come up against the Wanderers and the Hamiltons they are not concerned by who they are of what has happened in the past. That breeds a positive attitude among the rest of the team.”
Apart from the new faces, Maitland are set to welcome back NSW Country lock Michael Howell (broken humorous) and John Birrell (knee) in the next month.
“We have 10-11 first-grade quality forwards,” McCormack said. “It makes for a few selection headaches for me and [co-coach Mick Hickling which is good.”