The NHRU season kick-off has been delayed until at least May 2. The majority of clubs have finalised their squads. The competition will again feature nine teams but the finals series has been reduced to four. The Newcastle Herald is taking a close look at each of the clubs in the lead-up. Here is Wanderers.
Coach: Dan Becket
Last year: 2nd (12 wins, 4 losses, 716 points for, 257 against)
Arrivals: Billy Coffey (Merewether), Max Stafford, Marcus Christensen, Willie Soe (Maitland), Dillon Rowney (Singleton), Luke Menchin, Leeland Marshall, Ben Christensen (returning), Tom Eymael (South Newcastle RL).
Departures: Alex Reid (returning England), Jack Johnson-Holmes (Sydney University), Sinclair George (work commitments).
Wanderers took giant strides in 2019. They blooded a heap of talented kids and unearthed some new stars. They certainly won't be flying under the radar this season.
Q&A - coach Dan Beckett
Of the nine arrivals, seven have played for the Two Blues previously. Is that encouraging and does it make preparation less complex.
It has been the best pre-season we have had and not from a performance factor. It is more the cultural aspect. It is nice to see that Newcastle rugby is still about mateship. These guys are back because they want to play with each other and they have had some great times in a Two Blues jersey. They don't only bring experience, they bring the traditional values of rugby. That's why we look forward to the season.
You gave a number of opportunities to kids last year, who jumped out of the box. Is there another wave coming through?
We have had a really talented group of 18-year-olds come through in the past couple of years and this season is no different. Tommy McPhee, Fossie Bradford, Logan Badger, Jessie Jenkins and Josh Barr have graduated from the academy and have been putting their hands up in the pre-season. I'm looking forward to them playing alongside some of the experienced guys. We have a mix of raw energy and 150 game first-grade veterans.
How important is it to have that blend?
It made our season in 2019. At the start of the year, the young guys led the club. They didn't know about expectation or pressure. They just ripped in. If anything, they may have shown some of the older guys what wins games of rugby. They will get their chance again this year. Guys like Will Archer, Piers Morrell and Charlie Mortimer are still only in their early 20s and have been leading the way.
No-one knew anything about Piers Morrell, Nimi Qio and Chase Hicks who emerged as stars. Teams will be better schooled on their strengths.
Having 12 months under their belt, especially given the level of the games at the back end of the year, they will come out of it wiser between the ears. And they are hungrier for success. The good thing about a new season is that you have to start from scratch again. As I said, the guys who have returned to the club have so much experience. Many of them know more about winning a first grade game than I do. The peer feedback they give the younger guys is gold.
The club has played in four losing grand final since their last title in 2014. Is it as simple as getting the key moments right in the biggest game of the year?
I don't think we have to change the way we play or look elsewhere. We just need to be tighter as a group. What the club has done in the past five years has been phenomenal. If we get 20-odd guys willing to play for each other and have each other's backs, we will be fine.
The Two Blues again look the best equipped to challenge the Hawks. They have retained the bulk of the 2019 side and added experience. They have developed a hard edge in the pack and have pace and power out wide. Max Stafford is an ideal replacement for Sinclair George, Billy Coffey is as explosive ever and the Christensen brothers add bulk to the scrum. The ingredients are there, they just need to find a way to get it done in the biggest game of the year.