ALTHOUGH this year's Newcastle Rugby League competition has again faced challenges, a top five has emerged amid the coronavirus chaos.
With three rounds left in the regular season the play-off positions are locked and loaded, but who will finish where remains to be seen because most of those teams play against each other.
Position: 1st (26 points)
Run Home: Central (H), Macquarie (A), Wests (H).
Lowdown: The Pickers have a chance to wrap up the minor premiership with just one more win and, outside captain Alex Langbridge, are pretty close to full strength. Last year's President's Cup champions tackle three sides inside the top five en route to the semis.
Position: 2nd (21 points)
Run Home: Maitland (A), Lakes (A), Macquarie (H).
Lowdown: Coming off two losses and struggling for consistency in the halves, the Butcher Boys are hoping to remain second on the ladder and earn a home semi next month. Return of playmakers Luke Walsh and Dylan Phythian could prove vital in finals campaign.
Position: 3rd (20 points)
Run Home: Macquarie (H), The Entrance (COVID draw), Kurri (A).
Lowdown: After three weekends off the park, the Goannas returned with an emphatic victory. Keeps alive chances of running second and avoids slipping out of top three. Outgoing coach Todd Edwards wants to finish on a high, backing up last year's grand final glory.
Position: 4th (19 points)
Run Home: Cessnock (A), Maitland (H), Cessnock (A).
Lowdown: The Scorpions have the toughest run home, meeting three teams above them on the competition ladder. Coach Steve Kidd reckons that will help "toughen us up a bit". Depending on results, second spot within reach but could slip back to fifth.
Position: 5th (17 points)
Run Home: The Entrance, Wyong (COVID draws), Maitland (A).
Lowdown: Having found themselves on the bottom of the ladder with an 0-6 record, the Rosellas won eight straight and now sit safely in fifth. However, that momentum gets a break with back-to-back COVID draws before a showdown with leaders Maitland.
CENTRAL COAST CLUBS
Wyong (13 points) and The Entrance (11) remain stranded as part of greater Sydney's lockdown.
Public health orders to stay at home mean the Roos and Tigers have been unable to train together, let alone play games, for almost a month.
If the current NSW government restrictions are extended beyond July 30, they may not take the field again this season.
There's only a slim chance Wyong and The Entrance could meet each other, as per the draw, on August 8.
Both teams, part of an expanded Newcastle RL competition for 2021, were within striking distance of the top five before being sidelined.
Kurri Kurri (9 points), Lakes (9) and Souths (5) find themselves out of contention to make play-offs but still have pride on the line.
They all clash with one another as part of the run home and avoiding the wooden spoon will be high on the agenda.
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