After a tumultuous end to the 2017 season, the smiles are back at Cessnock Sportsground and broadening every day.
New Cessnock coach Al Lantry has brought together a squad full of depth and menace across the field to opposing teams and stepped up their preparation for the coming season with an intensive two-day camp on the weekend.
“We’ve got a fairly new side here, a lot of new faces so I wanted to do some team building and get things together just working on the little one per cent plays,” Lantry said halfway through Saturday’s intensive session.
“It’s now that we kick it up again, pick up a little bit more fitness going into the season but the key element is creating the mental toughness to see out games.
“Those last 10 minutes of halves are when you really need that mental toughness. A lot of players drop off and stop working as hard. We want to ensure our blokes have that mental toughness to keep going for the whole 80 minutes.
“That little bit extra in pre-season does wonders at the end of the year.”
The Goannas narrowly missed the finals last year after they were cruelled by injuries with 10 starting first graders on the sidelines including hooker Josh Dimmock for the entire season.
They then parted ways with coach Steve Kidd in an acrimonious split which also saw the resignation of club president Damo Evans and secretary David Cleaves.
In the wake Darrell Wilkinson was named president and Cherie Douglas secretary and with the club firmly behind them an amazing transition has taken place with Lantry as player-coach.
The club’s star signings include former NRL players Paul Carter and Chanel Mata’utia and Country Player of the Year Riley Brown.
Equally importantly they have boosted their depth across the park and retained key locals Kori Barber, Joe Woodbury, Sam Apthorpe, Reed Hugo and Marvin Filipo.
Giant forward Kurt Warden will be joined by Alex Mammone and last year’s signings Cal Edwards and Jake McNamara have had trouble-free pre-seasons.
“We’ve got good depth. There are six to eight front-rowers at the moment who can all play first grade, six back-rowers, four locks, five or six centres there’s plenty of depth,” Lantry said.
“We’ve got a few local boys who have pushed through from the 19s. I’m pretty interested to see how they go coming through to grade.
“The way they have been training and what they’ve show me so far I’m pretty impressed by them. They come up and had a few games as 18 year olds, They have a proper pre-season now.”