Newcastle Rugby League: The 2017 season review and team of the year.

MOMENT: Macquarie skipper Chris Hyde holds aloft the Newcastle Rugby League first grade silverware. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
MOMENT: Macquarie skipper Chris Hyde holds aloft the Newcastle Rugby League first grade silverware. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The game plan.

A sporting phrase quite often used and in practice not always executed.  

But on Saturday afternoon this couldn’t have been further from the truth as Macquarie delivered an 80 minutes to remember.

It was a performance from a depleted squad that defied the odds against a more-fancied opponent, reversed two years of grand final heartache and delivered a Newcastle Rugby League title to Toronto for the first time since 1991. 

Minor premiers and premiership favourites Western Suburbs left McDonald Jones Stadium wondering what just happened.

Admittedly the Rosellas were “off” and probably made more mistakes in that one fixture than they had for the entire season, however, the Scorpions were “on” and carried out the wishes of coach Adam Bettridge to an absolute tee.  

It was simple yet effective – kick early in the tackle count, turn them round and make them run in the sun – and capped off by a relentless attitude together in defence.

DETERMINED: Macquarie's Tye Alchin. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

DETERMINED: Macquarie's Tye Alchin. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

“Game plan worked a treat and we probably executed at 100 per cent,” Bettridge said.

“The boys were outstanding. They’re like a brotherhood here and just never, ever give in.”

The silverware now sits alongside the State Cup claimed by Macquarie earlier this year.

Without the main prize for a third straight season Wests walk away understandably disappointed, but were the benchmark in 2017 and dominated the competition’s annual awards, including player of the year.

In third Central Newcastle were the big improvers, Lakes were crowned club champions and South Newcastle made the play-offs.

As for the Coalfields sides – Cessnock, Maitland and Kurri Kurri – it was the first time all three missed the semi-finals in at least a decade.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Ryan Walker (Wests): Didn’t get the chocolates on grand final day but was in a realm of his own throughout the entire campaign.

When the 31-year-old pushed the button inside the opposition 20 metre line and ran at defenders he just scored at will, hence topping the try tally with 24. 

The Rosellas five-eighth also grew in confidence with new teammates alongside him as the season progressed – passing, kicking and defending. 

Meticulous in his clockwork-like preparation. 

Deserving recipient of Newcastle RL player of the year and being voted players’ player by his peers. 

COACH OF THE YEAR

Craig Miller (Central): From battling for wooden spoon to 80 minutes away from club’s first grand final appearance in 54 years.

Impressive turnaround on debut with Butcher Boys.

Off the field also forced to deal with unprecedented near-death experience of prop Jake Finn and constant roster changes. 

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR

Maitland: Promised better than previous two wooden spoons, especially with arrival of English Super League duo Dane Tilse and Luke Dorn, and delivered somewhat with more close encounters than not.

But were unable to get over the line and string together results consistently.

Hampered by venue change from unused new sportsground to “the rock” at Coronation Oval.   

TEAM OF THE YEAR

Fullback – Jake Maizen (Central): Rookie of the year and for good reason. Natural fit as custodian.

Wingers – Lachlan Walmsley (Souths), Kyle Kennedy (Lakes): Quick, elusive and point scorers.

Centres – Mitch Manson (Macquarie), Jared Nott (Central): Versatile and strong in top-three sides.

Halves – Ryan Walker, Sam Keenan (Wests): Rosellas playmakers finished one-two in player of the year standings.

Props – Shaun Boss (Lakes), Dane Tilse (Maitland): Uncompromising and powerful front men who deliver valuable go forward. 

Hooker – Chris Hyde (Macquarie): Inspirational and instrumental leader in Scorpions premiership.

Second-row – Luke Higgins (Souths), Ben Stone (Wests): Hard working duo, dangerous on the edges, tackling machines. 

Lock – Daniel Abraham (Macquarie): Fairytale farewell for retiring former NRL champion. Helped carry Scorpions forward pack in absence of three starting front-rowers during back end of the season. Man-of-the-match in decider.

Bench – Dane Cordner (Central), Marvin Filipo (Cessnock), Michael Steele (Kurri), Andy Sumner (Macquarie): Mix of middle men, loose forwards and a utility back. 

  • Newcastle Rugby League farewelled life member and long-time Souths stalwart William “John” Fleming last week. The Merewether man died on September 17 after a short illness. He was 87.