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The Maitland Pickers have secured their place in the 2023 Denton Cup Grand Final in a gruelling 24-22 win over South Newcastle at Maitland No.1 Sportsground on Saturday afternoon.

By Daneie Geddes

The beginning of the match saw an even contest play out with both sides trading sets for the first quarter of the game, but Pickers halves pairing Brock Lamb and Chad O’Donnell proved the difference in the end, with their kicking and game management a class above.

After both sides traded sets in the first 22 minutes, Souths’ halfback Angus Ernst capitalised on a Pickers dropped ball. Ernst spread the ball out to wing Harrison Van Dartel who sliced through the Pickers’ defence to score the opening try. A successful conversion from Harry Crocker gave Souths a 6-0 lead.

First points for the Pickers came in the 29th minute with Lamb poking his nose through the visitors left edge defence and cleverly offloading inside for O’Donnell to score. Lamb converted to tie up the score 6-6.

Souths bit back in the 34th minute when fullback Reeve Howard made a linebreak from halfway to inside the 10-metre line. Hooker Mitchell Black found space on the left with a clean offload to send Van Dartel over for his second. A successful conversion by Crocker gave Souths a 12-6 lead.

The Pickers soon found their rhythm after producing an extra set 10-metres out from the line. With Souths unable to number up, Alex Lanebridge sliced through off the end of a right edge shift. Lamb missed the sideline conversion as Souths held a 12-10 lead at halftime.

Three minutes into the second half Maitland came out firing when O’Donnell stepped, weaved and broke through several tackles before offloading to wing James Bradley who placed four more points on the board for the Pickers. Lamb converted to push Maitland into the lead, 16-12.

The home side found more success minutes later as O’Donnell and Reid Alchin worked the ball upfield into an attacking position before Daniel Lanebridge battled his way over the line. Lamb converted for a 10-point lead.

However, Souths were not done. In the 61st minute, fullback Reeve Howard scored his first try of the afternoon, putting South Newcastle back in the game. A successful Crocker conversion made it 22-18.

A high tackle on Pickers’ centre Matthew Soper-Lawler gave the home side the penalty they needed to kick for two. A successful kick from Lamb gave the Pickers a six point lead with eight minutes left on the clock.

Despite the defensive nature of the game, a breakthrough moment occurred with three minutes left when Souths managed to exploit a gap in the Pickers' defence. A clever offload from Ernst near the halfway line allowed Souths' centre Jhett Butler to break free and sprint downfield, evading chasing defenders to cruise over the line untouched. The conversion attempt from Crocker was unsuccessful, leaving the score at 24-22 in favour of Maitland at fulltime.

The victory will see the Pickers straight into the grand final, as Souths prepare to keep their grand final hopes alive next week in a face-off against the victors from the Cessnock vs The Entrance semi final match.

Acknowledgement of Country

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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