CENTRAL Newcastle coach Phil Williams and Western Suburbs mentor Matt Lantry paid tribute to their players after brave victories in round 14 of the Newcastle Rugby League premiership.
Central fought back from deficits of 14-0 and 22-6 to beat Maitland 32-22 at St John Oval on Saturday - their third win in the space of six days.
At Kurri Sportsground, Wests overcame the absence of eight players through illness and injury to down the home side 18-8 and continue their relentless march towards the minor premiership.
"From 22-6 down, it was a magnificent effort," Williams said. "It's been a big week for us as a club. Three games in six days, and we've won them all. It's a great effort not only from the players, but also the coaching staff, the support staff, the committee and our supporters."
After wins against Lakes United last Sunday and premiers South Newcastle on Tuesday, Williams said that "you would have thought that if anyone was going to run out of puff, it would probably have been us in the second half".
Instead the Butcher Boys ran in 26 unanswered points to climb into the top five.
Prop Junior Roqica led the way with two tries, while halfback Brad Murray scored a try and kicked four goals.
Pickers coach Luke Dorn told the Maitland Mercury: "Once a little bit of pressure was put on us and bit of momentum swung back to them we couldn't handle it."
Lantry, meanwhile, was delighted about the efforts from his fill-in players after fielding a team minus Luke and Ryan Walsh, prop Warren Shillings, fullback Sam Keenan and bench forwards Mark Taufua and Al Lantry, all of whom had contracted influenza. Centre Blake Andrews (shoulder) and bench utility Felise Tauffao [concussion] were also unavailable.
"Some young guys got an opportunity and really stepped up for us," Lantry said. "We had two debutants and two second-gamers and they did really.
"The depth we've been able to build this year is probably as good as it's been at the club. We're at the top of the ladder in first grade, reserve grade and third grade.
"We had a lot of guys out but it's nice to see young guys coming through from our Emerging Rosellas academy and playing first grade for Wests."
Lantry said there was "still a lot of water to go under the bridge" before the finals kicked off and the competition pacesetters would be aiming "to really ramp up our performances and go to another level" over the final four rounds of the regular season.
Winger Michael Hendry scored two tries for Wests.
In Sunday's games, Cessnock powered home in the second half to beat Lakes 36-16 at Cahill Oval.
The Goannas lead 12-10 at half-time but surged ahead with two tries within four minutes of the resumption.
At Peacock Field, Souths bounced back from their midweek loss to down Macquarie 20-10.