Newcastle rugby:

EMPTY was how Maitland co-captain Michael Howell described the feeling of the Blacks after their 20-12 loss to Hamilton in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union grand final on Saturday.

Howell produced a typical whole-hearted display in the second row. Fellow forwards Nick Davidson, John Birrell and Travis Brooke weren’t far behind him.

The Blacks gave as good as they got for much of the contest. 

They held firm at the set piece and found holes on the edges but paid the price for poor handling.

Howell was also a member of the 2010 side which went down to Hamilton 39-34 in the decider. 

“This loss is a more empty feeling than the one in 2010,” Howell said.

“We genuinely could have grabbed it. We had our chances. The sad part is you don’t get it back.”

Maitland finished second on the table, their best result in more than a decade. They have a young side and will benefit for the experience.

“We can build on it but it will take another year of hard work,” Howell said. “It would have been good to cash in on it today but that is how it goes. Hamilton have come back year after year and done the job. We have to find a way to knock that juggernaut off.”

The loss is likely to sound the end of the first-grade career of hooker Dan Runchel, who played his 190th game in the top grade.

“He has been an inspirational member of the Blacks family for a long time,” co-coach Mick Hickling said. “He wanted that really bad today and gave it his all. Everyone out did themselves. The defence was amazing considering the amount we had to do. When we held on the ball for a few phases we scored a try.”