Newcastle Rugby League: Cessnock prop Brendan Hlad set for one last Goannas hurrah

MATCH: Cessnock forwards Brendan Hlad and Kori Barber at Flanagan's Menswear on Thursday modelling Goannas grand final supporter shirts. Picture: Josh Callinan
MATCH: Cessnock forwards Brendan Hlad and Kori Barber at Flanagan's Menswear on Thursday modelling Goannas grand final supporter shirts. Picture: Josh Callinan

Cessnock coach Todd Edwards rates him the most consistent prop in Newcastle Rugby League over the last decade.

Goannas teammate Connor Kirkwood would "love nothing more than to send him out a winner".

And the man himself, who bleeds the black and gold colours of his beloved club, knows now not to take Sunday's grand final for granted.

As retiring Brendan Hlad prepares for his last 80 minutes, in a fifth title decider but first since 2014, the 32-year-old says the moment has started to hit home and in particular while making his way around town.

"I think now that I'm older, a lot older now, and this is my last one, it does mean a bit more I suppose," Hlad said.

"I think you take it for granted a little bit when you're younger and I don't think you realise what it's all about until you get older.

"The community support, the town and everyone behind you - I can't walk down the aisle of a shopping centre without someone pulling me up. It's great."

BLACK AND GOLD: Retiring Cessnock Goannas forward Brendan Hlad plays on despite blood on his face earlier this Newcastle Rugby League season. Picture: Marina Neil

BLACK AND GOLD: Retiring Cessnock Goannas forward Brendan Hlad plays on despite blood on his face earlier this Newcastle Rugby League season. Picture: Marina Neil

However, finding himself within reach of a maiden Newcastle RL premiership was the last thing on Hlad's mind six weeks ago.

The Goannas had just been flogged 57-0 by upcoming opponents Western Suburbs and the father-of-three was rushed to Cessnock Hospital having lost vision in his right eye following an incident early in that game.

Hlad was ruled out of the ensuing must-win encounter with defending champions Souths at Townson Oval on Sleapy's Day.

A last-round loss would have signalled the end of Hlad's career.

But the Goannas were victorious, other results went their way and they finished fifth on the competition ladder, sneaking into the semis by a solitary point.

After obtaining a medical clearance and Hlad declaring his eye "heaps better", he returned for the finals series and Cessnock are now four on the trot.

"We made the semi-finals by a field goal," he said.

"If Central and Kurri have a draw [in the last round] we miss out, but that's the way it goes and we've made the most of it.

"There's just been a shift in attitude from the boys. A lot of them taking ownership for themselves, everyone buying into what we've been trying to get happening all year.

"It's finally happening and it's happening at the right time of year.

"We'll just have a crack. That's been our thing the whole semi-final campaign. There's no pressure on us. We're underdogs."

Hlad has played for Cessnock in four losing grand finals between 2009 and 2014 after returning from an English Super League stint with the Castleford Tigers.

He would love to finish on a high with the Goannas.

"Regardless of the result, I'm quite content with what we've done," the miner said.

"That would definitely be the fairytale ending, but fairytales don't always end that way."

NEWCASTLE RUGBY LEAGUE GRAND FINAL 2019:

This story Newcastle Rugby League: Cessnock prop Brendan Hlad set for one last Goannas hurrah first appeared on Newcastle Herald.