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Pickers go back-to-back in Presidents Cup

The Maitland Pickers have won back-to-back Presidents Cup premierships with a dominant 36-12 win over the Hills Bulls at CommBank Stadium today.

Maitland last won the Cup in 2020 – there was no competition in 2021 due to COVID-19 - and have maintained their solid club form on their way to today’s NSWRL Grand Final Day, winning the Denton Engineering Cup Grand Final and the Presidents Cup Semi-final.

The Cup brings together the winners of the four NSWRL conferences: Ron Massey Cup (Central), Mojo Homes Illawarra Cup (Southern), Denton Engineering Cup (Northern) and Peter McDonald Premiership (Western) to decide the champion semi-professional club in the state.

After seven tries over the Forbes Magpies in the Presidents Cup Semi-final a week ago, the Pickers laid on five today.

Bulls – the Ron Massey Cup premiers over Glebe three weeks ago – stemmed the points flow in the second half but two players sent to the sin-bin midway through the second half didn’t help.

Maitland five-eighth Chad O’Donnell was named Player of the Match.

“This is huge for the club,” O’Donnell said. “We’re got a great support staff behind the scenes that do a lot of work, so this little milestone is great for them.

“Our discipline won it for us. We had a good mindset going in – to win a Grand Final and then get up again and continue to be at a high level – that is what we worked on all week.

“That helped us lay a platform through the middle and that’s what got us the win.”

Hills Bulls won the toss but nothing seemed to go to plan from there. They headed to the sheds at halftime down 20-6.

The Pickers scored two tries in three minutes early in the half – winger James Bradley in the ninth minute and fullback Daniel Langbridge in the 12th – to race to an early 12-0 lead.

The Langbridge try hurt as it came off Bulls fullback Keiran Hayman fumbling a Bradley kick right under his own goalposts allowing an opportunistic try for his opposite number.

The Bulls finally got on the scoreboard in the 20th minute when prop Tim Robinson ran the perfect line off a smart pass from his lock Regan Hughes, with Brad Keighran converting (12-6).

Halfback Brock Lamb pushed Maitland out to a 14-6 lead with a penalty for a lifting tackle.

Keighran missed a penalty for a Pickers shoulder charge and then his winger Maile Li was bundled into touch close to the corner post as Bulls tried to reel in the eight-point margin.

Then a “coach killer” came in the dying seconds of the first half when another Bulls handling error allowed Maitland centre Matthew Soper-Lawler to kick downfield twice, regather, and score a 90m try.

In the second half, Lamb put a further stamp on the game with an individual try from 12m out, where he simply dummied inside and ran through untouched for the Pickers’ fourth try (26-6).

Then some momentum swung the Bulls way with utility Damon Smith scoring (26-12) but it was short-lived.

Bulls second rower Tyler Cassel was sin-binned for tackling Lamb in the air. Eight minutes later and hooker Keighran was in the bin for a professional foul.

The ensuing two penalties by O’Donnell, who took over the kicking duties from Lamb, for those indiscretions, put Maitland out to 30-12.

Cassel returned but Hills were still down to 12 men and Maitland took advantage.

Lamb fired a long cut-out ball to winger Perry Le Brocque for the Pickers fifth try to seal the win. The O’Donnell conversion from the western sideline was the exclamation mark.

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New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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