Black out: Maitland to turn up heat on Hamilton in Newcastle rugby decider

ONE TARGET: Hamilton captain Steve Lamont (centre) with Maitland co-captains Michael Howell (left) and Chris Logan. Picture: Simone De Peak
ONE TARGET: Hamilton captain Steve Lamont (centre) with Maitland co-captains Michael Howell (left) and Chris Logan. Picture: Simone De Peak

MAITLAND co-captain Chris Logan has received messages this week from people he doesn’t know.

His phone has been abuzz. Former teammates. Fans. Old boys. Sponsors. Parents of juniors. Rivals players. All offering congratulations and best wishes.

It has been 19 years since the first-grade premiership trophy has taken pride of place in Lorn.

To etch their name in history again, the Blacks must beat a Hamilton outfit that has made a habit of producing their best in September.

It was the Hawks who beat Maitland 39-34 in their last appearance in the big dance in 2010.

Hamilton have since featured in every grand final, bar 2014, and are chasing an historic fourth straight premiership.

Hamilton supporters reminded the Blacks of the pecking order in a cheeky prank this week. Maitland folk awoke on Tuesday to Hamilton flags flapping in the breeze along High Street and outside the Blacks’ headquarters at Marcellin Park.

If that wasn’t enough, a check of the competition table will re-enforce the task the Blacks face.

Hamilton finished eight points clear at the top and beat Merewether 36-28 to progress straight to the grand final.

That wasn’t the most convincing display, but given seven of the Hawks have played in the past three premierships, they know what to do went it counts.

“We have to be aggressive on both sides of the ball,” Maitland co-coach Mick Hickling said. “We have some game-breakers. It is a matter of giving those guys an opportunity. You have to do the simple things right. Catch and pass, make good decisions and good contact in defence. They are the important things.If we give them the ball and allow them to dictate a large percentage of the game, they will hurt us.”

Hickling’s opposite Scott Coleman admitted that he feared Maitland most.

“Looking at it four weeks ago, they were the team I didn’t want to play,” he said. “They were the most dangerous. Their forward pack is unbelievable but I still think we can match them. We have done a lot of home work, especially on ways to shut down their danger men out wide. It is no secret who they are. We have some big game players as well.”

A mass of Maitland supporters are expected to turn No.2 Sportsground into a black out. More than 250 were on hand for an open training session on Thursday.

“We have tried to keep our routine the same as the past couple of weeks, but you want to enjoy it as well and feed off that excitement,” Hickling said.

Coleman welcomed the heightened interest.

“Any kind of noise is energy whether they are booing your cheering for you,” he said.

“We want the crowd as big as possible. Everyone wants atmosphere. They are a really strong community club. They have had a few tragedies to deal with in the past couple of years and they have really bound together. We know they will have a lot lift. Our crowd is pretty vocal as well. Bring it on.”

Maitland co-captain Chris Logan was the hero – game-breaker – crossing for a last-minute try to break Merewether 26-24 in the preliminary final.

Logan’s work off the field has been equally important. Up until last season, Maitland had relied purely on their own production line for talent. Outsiders, although welcome, were never actively recruited. 

Logan played alongside Travis Brooke in Scotland and lured him to the Hunter last year. This season Carl Manu, Willie Soe and Turi Uini arrived at Marcellin.

“When I back to the club I said we had to start going down that road,” Logan said. “There is not the talent pool in the area for the amount of teams here.Look at the influence that Travis and Carl have had on the club.”