After years of living year by year, the Maitland Pickers enter a new era where titles – not survival – is the measure of success.
An initial 30-year sponsorship deal with Club Maitland City gives the Pickers the ability to secure the players they want in the Newcastle Rugby League player market and nurture the Hunter’s richest junior development area.
“There was a chance the Maitland Pickers could have been buried or would have struggled anyway. This way the future of the Maitland Pickers is secure,” Club Maitland City sports and sponsorship manager DJ Dilworth said in announcing his club’s biggest single sponsorship investment.
While the club will not divulge the exact dollar figures, it is also more than likely to be easily the biggest sponsorship deal for any Maitland sporting team.
Negotiations for the sponsorship beyond 2018 are expected to be finalised by June.
The club has agreed to match and slightly exceed the planned combined grant to the Pickers from the Maitland Leagues Club and its poker machine owner Tabcorp Gaming Services and provide substantially more in years to come.
The smiles on Pickers president Frank Lawler and Dilworth’s faces were enormous at Thursday’s announcement as thoughts moved from survival to thriving in the Newcastle Rugby League.
“We have the money behind us now to move forward and aim high,” Lawler said.
“We and Club Maitland City want us to be a top three side who can compete for the title each year and have long-term success.
“We can sign players to longer term deals knowing we have the financial certainty to do it and they know we can fulfil our side.
“But we are not going to go out and just buy a premiership.
“We have put ourselves on a path of securing selected players and developing our juniors.
“The Maitland focus will continue and hopefully we can welcome back more of our juniors after careers at higher level as we have done with Luke Dorn and Adam and Luke Clydsdale who have such a strong link with the club through their grandfather Bandy Adams, a club legend.
“It also means we can recruit players such as we did with Dane Tilse and build a team full of local boys around them.
“The sponsorship extends from the first grade through to the Ladies League Tag team and will also enable us to play a greater role in developing our junior aligned teams right through from Dungog to Woodberry, Beresfield to Greta.
“We will be able to look at the establishment of an academy where players from our junior clubs can come together and be better prepared for the transition to first grade.
“The Newcastle Rugby Leagues alignment with the NSW RL also opens the door for us as a club to have our own under-18 and under-16 teams like every other club.”
For Lawler there was the added relief of knowing the club had survived under his watch and would be in a better place when he leaves.
“There was a round of applause,” Lawler said of when the proposed sponsorship deal was put to the Maitland Pickers committee. “We’ve lived from year to year and the leagues club have done a tremendous job to honour their grant in difficult circumstances.
“We probably knew it was coming to an end one day. We just didn’t realise that a club like Club Maitland City would step up and back us, not for just one year but our long-term future which is fantastic.”
Dilworth said the response from the Pickers committee had been incredibly positive given the lengthy association between the Pickers and leagues club.
“The committee were all over the moon that the Pickers are secure,” Dilworth said.
“There were a fair few tears among the members because they have had such a long association with the leagues club and worked so hard to ensure the Pickers success and lately survival.
“As Frank said, the leagues club has given its blessing for the Pickers to come here. Like us they just wanted to ensure the Maitland Pickers could survive.
“Our initial position was we don’t want to do anything if the leagues club get offended by it and straight away they said ‘No we’re happy for you to go that way’.”
The Maitland City Council has also put planned increase ground fees of up to $20,000 at the new Maitland Sportsground on hold for now. A report will be be prepared for the new financial year on fee structures and canteen use.