CO-COACH MICK Hickling knows Maitland can be better. He knows they have to be better.
In the euphoria of the Blacks’ last-gasp 26-24 victory over Merewether on Saturday – a win that earned Maitland a Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union grand-final berth for the first time since 2010 – the message was loud and clear.
“The chat on the field at the full-time was good,” Hickling said. “It was about having a job to do next week.”
Hamilton, who beat Merewether 36-28 in the major semi-final to progress straight to the decider, are chasing a historic fourth straight premiership. A Cyril Burke-led Waratahs were the last side to win four on end back in 1953.
Maitland haven’t etched their name on the premiership trophy since going back-to-back in 1998-99.
“Through the back half of the year, there has been a belief that we can beat anyone on our day,” Hickling said. “We only lost one game in the second round and that was to Hamilton by a close margin.
“Hamilton have been a great side for years. They are a great club. We need to be 10-out-of-10 to beat them. We have spoken all year about working towards being perfect, and we will need to be pretty close to beat them.
“Our composure in the second half needs to be better. At different times we took wrong options, threw silly passes, went down the short side when it wasn’t on ... we need to be better next week if we want to win.”
The Blacks certainly have the ingredients to end the Hawks’ reign. They are strong at the set piece, have a high work ethic in defence and boast game-breakers across the park.
And it was one of those match-winners, captain Chris Logan, who delivered the killer blow to the Greens.
With the Blacks down 24-19 and time almost up, Logan ran a great line on the inside of replacement fly-half and co-coach Ryan McCormack into a hole. The NSW Country Cockatoo outside centre put on the afterburners and blasted past tired attempts from Merewether back-rowers Sam Dart and Jarome Wilson to score and send the Blacks supporters into delirium.
“I was busted,” Logan admitted at full-time.
“Chippy (McCormack) called the play so I had to go. When he is out there he is the boss. I do what he says. It’s a set play that has worked for us before and thankfully it did the trick again.”
Maitland had led 7-0 after eight minutes and 12-7 in the 18th. For the best part of the next hour, Merewether had the better of an entertaining contest.
And if not for a couple of desperate tackles on their own line, the Blacks may have been gone.
“We got a bit untidy and went away from our structure,” Hickling said. “Errors started to creep in and we were struggling to get blokes to the breakdown. They were on the ball pretty good and put a lot of pressure on.
“Defensively in the second half, we pulled them up short a couple of times. We defended really well and gave ourselves a chance.