CESSNOCK coach Todd Edwards likes to keep his side under the radar but a win today over Western Suburbs could be enough to install the Goannas as title favourites.
Edwards has talked down the chance of Cessnock, minor premiers and beaten grand finalists last year, after the loss of Sione Finefeuiaki, Willie Pole'o, Daniel Metcalf and Chris Adams in the off-season.
But the Goannas are riding high and are on track for another crack at the title.
They are a point behind leaders Maitland, are undefeated in their past eight matches and have a game in hand against strugglers South Newcastle to play on July 14.
Their only loss came against the Rosellas, 21-14 in round one at Harker Oval, but Cessnock skipper Ryan Gregory said Wests could expect an entirely different side today at Cessnock Sportsground.
"There's a lot more belief in our side now," Gregory said.
"Being a new side again we weren't sure how we'd go again, but we're going along nicely at the moment."
However, Edwards's recent announcement that he will not be at the helm next year could impact on Cessnock's campaign.
Gregory was confident the news would not derail his side's season and said the players would be motivated to send Edwards out with a premiership after back-to-back grand final defeats.
"It not really something we've spoken about or thought about at the moment," he said.
"It's only halfway through the comp, but I'm sure that will come up later in the year.
"I think Todd is a lot of the reason some blokes are here, because he's a good coach and everyone responds well to him, but at the moment we're focusing on ourselves."
Edwards wants to further his coaching and is eyeing a position with the Knights and the vacant Newcastle representative job.
"That is a job [Newcastle Rebels] that I'd like to get or do some stuff with [Knights coach Rick Stone] Stoney," the level-two accredited coach said.
"I'd like to be doing it for a living, but if you haven't played in the NRL it's very hard to get in."
His more immediate concern will be tackling a Wests forward pack led by in-form props Finefeuiaki and Mitchell Garbutt without his No.1 front-rower, Brendan Hlad, who is out for two to three weeks with a shoulder injury. Adam Withyman will move off the bench into the starting side.
The Rosellas will be without utility back Sam Wooden and centre David Pangai due to NSW Country commitments.
Wests coach Dan Quinn has moved last week's halfback, Nathan Hinton, to the centres and made Todd Maddison and Todd Hurrell the halves to help cover the absentees.
Central Newcastle's match at St John Oval against Lakes United has been moved to tonight at 6.30pm.
Wyong coach Paul Stringer has promoted Aaiden Wright, James Arnesen, Shaun Boss and Clay McArthur into his line-up for tomorrow's match against Kurri Kurri at Morry Breen Oval to cover the loss of Country reps Mitch Williams, Chad Sharp, Josh Mantellato and Bodie O'Connell.
Also tomorrow, Macquarie face Maitland at Peacock Field and South Newcastle play fellow strugglers Northern Blues at Tomaree Sports Complex.