12-time Origin representative Andrew Ryan is hoping to coach proud club South Newcastle to their 12th premiership since 1910 in the Newcastle Rugby League competition as they look to defeat the Cessnock Goannas at Maitland Sportsground this Sunday.
Ryan captained the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs to a 2004 NRL grand final win over the Sydney Roosters, played 11 tests for Australia, 12 Origins, has 291 NRL games to his name and is now enjoying a change of pace coaching the Lions for the second consecutive year.
“I love it - it’s a really good club and a great core group of guys as well,” Ryan said.
“My two boys played juniors at the club so I’m lucky to be really heavily involved right through from juniors all the way to seniors, so it’s a great club to be part of.”
There is plenty of history in a side that is co-captained by Ryan Glanville, the son of Newcastle Knights 1997 premiership winner Marc, while current NRL players Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Sione Matautia and Tex Hoy were Souths juniors.
In 2016, former coach Todd Hurrell broke a 25-year premiership drought for the club. They then enjoyed further success in 2018 under Ben Cross and this season finished in fourth place during the regular season.
Souths stormed through to the Grand Final with an emphatic 28-24 victory over minor premiers Wyong Roos in the preliminary finals at Maitland Sportsground last Sunday.
The last time Souths and Cessnock met was back in Round 2 in a low-scoring affair, where the Lions prevailed 12-8 at their home ground Townson Oval and Ryan knows Sunday’s game will be a massive challenge for his side.
“That’s been the thing, we have only played them once this year at our home ground as well and haven’t been able to see a heap of them this year,” Ryan said.
“Their team has changed quite a bit during the season - they were in the Grand Final last year; they’ve been a quality team for a long time as well, so we’ll certainly have to be good this weekend.
“Across the board hopefully everyone plays well but our two co-captains Scott Matthews and Ryan Glanville – Scott’s just a worker, he does the same every week and Ryan has been a quality player for a number of years in the team.
“They’re still only young guys but they just turn up every week to training and games with a fantastic attitude so I expect them to lead from the front again this week.”
The Newcastle Rugby League Grand Final Day will start at 9:30am on Sunday with the Monarch Blues Tag kicking-off the day and will culminate in the First Grade clash at 3:15pm.