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Brock Lamb playing for the Maitland Pickers last week.

Maitland Pickers have recruited former NRL, Samoan international and Australian Schoolboys representative Pat Mata'utia to play in the Presidents Cup competition for 2020 and coach Matt Lantry says he can’t wait to come up against heavyweights like Wentworthville Magpies and the North Sydney Bears.

The Presidents Cup starts tomorrow (Saturday July 18) and will feature nine clubs from across Sydney and regional NSW including North Sydney Bears, Dubbo CYMS, Thirroul Butchers, Wests Illawarra, Western Rams, Hills Bulls, Wentworthville Magpies, Maitland Pickers and Glebe-Burwood Wolves.

“We had a great pre-season and we were really happy with where our team had got to, we had a trial against Wyong and it wasn’t too long after that that everything was shut down, so to have that six weeks off due to COVID was obviously very deflating for us all,” Lantry said.

“Since there was an opportunity for us to challenge ourselves, more importantly at higher level than what was available here in Newcastle, we’re really looking forward to being part of the Presidents Cup.

“I think it’s the first time a Maitland team has actually ever competed in a Sydney-based competition or a competition based outside of the Newcastle Rugby League, so a little bit of history for us to be part of as well.

“We’re going down with some expectations of ourselves but were realists too in the fact that each and every team is going to have a quality roster and every game is going to be really competitive.

“It’s generated some enthusiasm from our playing group but as importantly for us its generated some interest around our local community as well, which is great.

“You look at Hills, who have gained some quality players from the Parramatta Canterbury Cup NSW side, you have a look at Dubbo with who they’ve signed particularly in Jason Bukuya, they’ve been quite successful in the NSW Challenge cup the last couple of years, so each week is certainly going to be real challenge and something I’m looking forward to.”

Round One sees the Pickers travel to Ringrose Park to face Wentworthville, who have a roster that includes the likes of Ethan Parry, Henry Raiwalui and Carl Winterstein but Lantry is looking forward to the encounter and believes a well-rounded performance from his side will be the key to success.

In his own roster, Lantry boasts talented half and ex-NRL player Brock Lamb as well as Mata'utia and players, including Alex Langbridge and Chad O'Donnell, who followed him from West Newcastle to Maitland this year.

“Obviously, you don’t get any bigger challenge than taking on Wentworthville in Round One - they’re a quality team and well coached by Brett Cook and that’s a challenge in itself we’ve got to face this week,” Lantry said.

“Pat has been a tremendous player for the last 12 months in the local comp, he was with me at Wests last year where we won the grand final, he was part of the Newcastle Rebels and NSW Pioneers squad and when Pat is at his best he can be absolutely devastating.

“I think the key thing for us, particularly in Round One, is keeping things simple and working collectively as a group together to ensure we’re solid defensively and if we all do that our individual roles become a little bit easier to manage as well and Pat can tie in off the back of a really good team performance.”

The Presidents Cup features teams from Sydney, the Illawarra, as well as Western NSW which means Maitland will be doing a lot more travel than they would during a regular season, though Lantry believes his squad will benefit greatly from the extra time they spend together. 

 “We’re used to it, a lot of our guys have played at a decent level and from Newcastle and if you come through as a junior there with the Knights Under 16s right through to Canterbury Cup NSW level every second week you’re on a bus travelling two hours,” Lantry said.

“I think we can use that to our advantage a little bit as well, where we can enjoy our trip home and spend that time together that your normally wouldn’t get post game – you would go back and do your club function or if it’s an away game you don’t see your players until Tuesday.

“Whereas we have that opportunity to spend a bit of time together and really get to know each other on another level.

“I don’t see the travel for us an issue and it’ll be something we’ll embrace and something our players are quite used to.”