BLACKS legend Tim O’Toole can see many similarities between the current outfit and the Maitland side he coached to consecutive premierships 20 years ago.
O’Toole addressed the Blacks before the 38-17 win over Nelson Bay on Saturday, which put them in the box seat to finish in the top three.
“Tim spoke about the excitement among the old boys and that they loved watching the entertaining style of rugby that we are playing,” Maitland co-coach Ryan McCormack said. “The 98-99 side had a handy backline with Christian Taylor, Nathan Friis and Adam Perkins and ours is pretty exciting as well.”
Many of the former stars were at Marcellin on Saturday for a 20-year reunion of the club’s last premiership.
“The crowd was fantastic, probably the biggest we have had this year,” McCormack said. “The guys feed off it. Maitland is big for everyone coming together and supporting the Blacks come finals time.”
The win moved Maitland into second place on 52 points – the highest they have been in 20 years – with away games against strugglers University and Lake Macquarie to play.
“The job is not finished yet,” McCormack said. “All the good work can be brought undone with a poor performance over the next two weeks.
“Uni at Uni has been a bit of a bogey game for us, and we are certainly going to have to turn up with the right mentality and perform well. We will be looking to fine tune, get the energy levels up and build towards the first week of the finals.”
Maitland had to work hard to topple a rugged Nelson Bay, who have slipped to fourth following the loss.
With a strong wind at their backs, the home side led 10-0 after 10 minutes and 15-5 at half-time.
They lost Chris Logan to the sinbin for a deliberate knock down before the break and the Bay made use of the extra man when Jack Arthur crossed to close the gap to 18-10 after 46 minutes.
The Bay then had centre Michael Hotene (high tackle) and winger Orisi Vosqua (professional foul) receive yellow cards in quick succession as the Blacks took control to go ahead 28-10. The Gropers hit back with a converted try but the home side finished the stronger.
Breakaway John Birrell and No.8 Travis Brooke were outstanding and Turi Uini was strong up front. When given front-foot ball, Carl Manu and Josh McCormack cut the Bay open out wide.
“We were really happy with the performance in the final 20 minutes,” McCormack said. “We love to run the football. Playing into the wind sometimes can help us. We are less likely to kick and just chance our arm and have a crack.”
For the Bay, hooker Dan Collins was strong, Michael Wiringi turned the Blacks around and with an astute kicking game and Chad Northcott was dangerous when he received the ball in space.
* A minute silence was observed before each round 15 game in respect to long-time NHRU vice president Graham “Sleepy” Cowan, who died on Saturday morning after a battle with cancer.