MAITLAND coach Matt Thomas has warned that the minor semi-final against Merewether could turn into a "bloodbath" if match officials do not crack down on "foul play".
Thomas was furious at a series of tackles that he believed were high and went unchecked in the Blacks' 35-19 loss to Wanderers in the qualifying semi-final.
He fired off an email to the referees asking them to "please explain" a number of incidents which he said were missed by Jarryd Logan or handled lightly.
"Our players were targetted and they were targetted not in a good way," he said. "It was foul play. There were 10 to 12 high tackles that were missed. I sent an email to the referees with a lot of 'please explains'. To their credit they got back to me and we have been working together."
Thomas said the Blacks showed discipline not to retaliate against Wanderers, but feared that wouldn't be the case if Merewether tried to rough them up at No.2 Sportsground on Sunday.
"If they do that, I think it will be a bloodbath," he said. "I don't think Merewether will be like that."
Wanderers coach, Dan Beckett, who is preparing his side for the major semi-final against Hamilton, defended his players and the officials.
"I thought the game was managed well," he said. "My players are not thugs. They play it tough but fair."
The Blacks will be without NSW country duo Mick Howell and Travis Brooke on Sunday after both suffered concussion.
Howell clashed heads with Wanderers centre Nimi Qio and Brooke was back slammed after being caught in a high tackle by Dan Kevill. Kevill was given a yellow card, his third for the season, and is suspended for the major semi final. Both Maitland players received treatment and played on.
"I'd rather our players remember me in five years than not. They might not like me right now because I have ruled them out," Thomas said.
Experienced duo Hugues de Rocquigny and James Johnston come into the pack.
"We just have to cop it on the chin and get on with it," Thomas said. "Travis and Michael have had spells out with injury before. We have put two boys back in who are just as good."
Merewether, who drew 27-all with Lake Macquarie in the elimination semi-final but progressed as the higher placed team, have made one forced change.
English prop Charlie Brown replaces Tysone Watene, who suffered concussion after he copped a knee attempting a tackle on Sapati Peniata. Peniata was cited and will front the judiciary on Wednesday.
Winger Kosta Sykiotis also received a head knock but has been cleared to play.
Merewether co-coach Mick Gill does not expect the game to be controlled differently despite Thomas' protests.
"The referees all have different interpretations and opinions," he said. "Rugby is a contact sport and it's a physical sport. We will play hard and tough and be physical. If we are worrying about the referee, than we are not focusing on the game."
Merewether have won both previous encounters with the Blacks. They kicked a late penalty to pip them 18-16 at Marcellin Park in round three, before inflicting a 40-7 thrashing at Townson Oval in round 12.
"The second time was one of those days where everything clicked," Gill said. "We are not expecting that scoreline again. It came off the back of our set piece. We fed off that. However it was only 10-7 in the second half, so we are only talking about 40 minutes. We have to be putting 80 minutes together."