Maitland winger Willis Alatini hopes to finish his Australian stay with a win and help the undefeated Pickers climb even further up the President's Cup ladder before he heads back to native New Zealand later this month.
Alatini, who crossed the Tasman around six years ago straight out of high school, returns to Auckland to open a gym with partner Amber and son Rome following a top-of-the-table clash with Hills Bulls at Crestwood Reserve on Sunday (3pm).
"It's disappointing to leave but I'm just grateful I was able to play a few games," he said. "We were always looking to head home but originally it was at the end of the season. With the COVID-19 thing we were able to buy a place for much cheaper and we signed the lease before footy had been given the green light. Fingers crosed I can finish with a win. President's Cup has been awesome."
Alatini arrived at the Pickers this season from fellow Newcastle Rugby League club Western Suburbs, playing in the 2017 grand final loss but missing last year's title because of an ACL injury suffered in round one.
"Of all the years to miss," Alatini said. "I'm lucky now and it [knee] feels really good. The break probably helped me because I got longer to recover."
Maitland coach Matt Lantry said Alatini would be a "big loss for us" after performing strongly in the first two weeks.
Pickers recruit James Taylor (cork) has been rested for the upcoming encounter with Callan Burgess returning to start in the front-row alongside Jayden Butterfield. Former NRL pair Pat Mata'utia and Sam Mataora remain sidelined with work commitments.
"We're very fortunate that we're in a position at the moment we don't have to play injured," Lantry said.
"We've got enough depth there and it means we don't need to risk James this week."
Lantry said Hills have a "massive forward pack" and making the "most of any opportunities" would be crucial.
"I think if we both play to our potential it will be a real grind for 80 minutes," he said.
"It means that any making the most of any opportunities could be the differnce at the end of the day."
Elsewhere in the NSW Rugby League competition North Sydney Bears host Thirroul Butchers, Dubbo CYMS are at home to Western Rams and Wentworthville Magpies visit Glebe Burwood Wolves. Wests Illawarra have the bye.
Meanwhile, former CRL Newcastle player Isabelle Kelly will captain the Central Coast Roosters from fullback when they host the Wests Tigers at Morry Breen Oval on Sunday (11:30am) in round three of the NSW Women's Premiership.
MAITLAND: 1 Daniel Langbridge 2 Elijah Resiga 3 Gary Anderson 4 Matt Soper-Lawler 5 Willis Alatini 6 Chad O'Donnell 7 Brock Lamb 8 Callan Burgess 9 Alex Langbridge 10 Jayden Butterfield 11 Cooper Jenkins 12 Henry Penn 13 Sam Anderson 14 Ben Ireland 15 Faitotoa Faitotoa 16 Jarred Anderson 17 Marvin Filipo.
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