Newcastle rugby union: Coaches favour Hawks to beat Wanderers in tight grand final

WINNERS ARE GRINNERS: Hamilton celebrate their 2016 premiership win after beating Wanderers in the grand final at No.2 Sportsground. Picture: Simone De Peak
WINNERS ARE GRINNERS: Hamilton celebrate their 2016 premiership win after beating Wanderers in the grand final at No.2 Sportsground. Picture: Simone De Peak

Hamilton, just.

That was the consensus of rival coaches when asked to predict the winner of Saturday’s grand final between Hamilton and Wanderers. The Hawks have won the past two deciders against Wanderers. In fact, their only loss to the Two Blues in the past nine games was the 2015 major semi-final.

Carl Manu (Waratahs) said Hamilton “seem to have a mental edge over Wanderers” while Uni coach Mark O’Brien believed the Hawks’ experience would get them home “by a point”.

Merewether co-coach Mick Gill wasn’t persuaded by history or tactics: “Hamilton because Merewether don't like Wanderers. Pretty simple.”

Maitland’s Mick Hickling and Lake Macquarie boss Tim Chidgey went the other way, predicting Wanderers’ pace to win the day.

“Wanderers have speed on the edges that can split a team from anywhere on the field,” Hickling said

Chidgey said: “If Wanderers can win their ball on set plays they have the pace out wide to win.”

They all agreed that the battle of the scrum would go a long way to deciding the outcome.

*  Dru Tonks will on Saturday become the youngest referee in the history of Newcastle rugby to control a first-grade grand final.

Tonks, 22, will be six years younger than Sandy McNeill, who was 28 when he officiated the first of his 15 top-grade deciders.

“It was a bit like the Australian cricket team in  those days,” Newcastle referee’s coach Mark Eades joked. “You nearly had to wait for someone to die to get an opportunity.”

“Dru has had an outstanding season, including a number of ARU appointments and has really matured as referee.”

* The NHRU has kept the entry charge for the grand final at $20 for third straight year. Registered players with a players pass receive a $5 discount and there are also other concessions. Children under eight are free. There will be jumping castle and face painting stall in operation.