Newcastle's Fantastic 50
Newcastle's NSW Cup coach Matt Lantry was struggling to field a team two months ago, having to utilise an incredible 50 players in the second-tier competition throughout the season to help the Knights' efforts towards their 20-10 grand final victory over Wyong.
Whether he was pulling them from the local Real NRL, the Under 20s or welcoming fringe first graders back from first grade, Lantry credited all 50 men who have come under his rule in 2015 – including his own assistant coach George Ndaira who he had to convince out of retirement to play.
Limping into the finals at seventh thanks to their heavy injury toll and following a heavy defeat to Manly, the Knights were able to reverse their fortunes against the Sea Eagles a week later, beat the reigning premiers Penrith and the minor premiers Mounties over the next fortnight before their win over the Roos in the decider.
Above all Newcastle avenged their 48-12 grand final loss to Penrith last year though Lantry had to make do with only three players from that game – captain Clint Newton and front-rowers Sam Mataora and Michael Steele – with others like the Mata'utia brothers, Nathan Ross, Pat Vaivai and James Elias all injured.
"To overcome that sort of adversity and pull together the best side we can it's been tremendous. It was enormously difficult about eight weeks ago," Lantry told NRL.com.
"We struggled to pull a team together but we hung in there, showed some character and it's a true good effort. It's not about the 17 that played here either there's another 30-odd players that have been a part of this process so everyone played their part.
"We have also been buoyed by the tremendous support that came to cheer on the NSW Cup and there was plenty of character out there that's for sure. No matter if it's the local footy, NRL, NYC or NSW Cup the Newcastle faithful when you have a crack and show effort they get right behind you."
A local Maitland junior, Lantry took great hope from the fact the last time Newcastle won a reserve grade premiership back in 1995 they were coached by fellow Maitland man and former Sea Eagles and Sharks coach Peter Sharp.
In a team including Brett Kimmorley, Billy Peden, Ashley Gordon, Owen Craigie and Darren Albert, Lantry was happy to emulate such notable Newcastle clubmen.
"I was looking at the 95' team that last won a premiership for the Knights in reserve grade and Sharpy and Mick Quinn were the coach and the assistant coach and I thought it might have been a little omen that they were both Maitland boys as well," Lantry said.
"It's a good pedigree, great town and it's all about Newcastle and the Hunter after this one."