Cessnock's star signing Tyler Randall will add some much needed experience as the Goannas concentrate on fast-tracking the development of young talent in the upcoming revised 10-round amateur Newcastle Rugby League competition.
With player payments firmly off the cards at the direction of the Newcastle RL, Randall will be joined by a handful of youthful first grade players to lead their Tier 1 side including Reed Hugo, Nick Lawrence, Robert Tuliatu and Seaton Reid.
A former Newcastle Knight, playmaker Randall played with the Goannas in 2010 and returned to the Hunter with his family after playing in Super League in the UK.
Back-rower Hugo is regarded by many as a future Goannas' captain. His fellow forward and former Newcastle Rebels teammate Tuliatu returned home this season after playing in the UK and Greece while furthering his university studies.
Lawrence, a natural footballer, is set to wear the No.9 at Cessnock for many years and Reid is a live-wire whose enthusiasm is infectious.
Goannas coach Todd Edwards said with many of the senior players opting not to play this season, it was an ideal opportunity to concentrate on development of younger players.
Three of the most promising prospects are Harrison Spruce, Joe Barber and Harvey Neville who were all prominent in the Goannas' Challenge Cup win against North Tamworth Bears way back in a pre-Covid impacted February outing.
"We've got a few regular first graders in the team, but it's a chance for the other boys on the edge to further push their case and for us to help their development," Edwards said.
"We still need some numbers, but we're hopeful they will pick up soon."
The Goannas will enter Tier 1 and 2 teams and a Blues Tag side, but will not be putting an under-19 team on the field.
The Tier 1 competition will be made up of first grade and reserve grade players, Tier 2 will be for reserve and open grade. There will be no player payments.
Maitland and Kurri Kurri will also be entering teams in the tier 1 and 2 competitions as well as the Blues Tag and under-19s.
The Pickers senior squad will be playing in the Presidents Cupwhich isa seven team competition featuring fellow regional sides Dubbo CYMS and Western NSW Rams as well as Ron Massey Cup teams North Sydney Bears, Wentworthville Magpies, Glebe-Burwood Wolves and Hills District Bulls
Cessnock secretary Cherie Douglas said the Goannas had put an inquiry in to play in the Ron Massey Cup (Presidents Cup) but did not proceed when the conditions proved too onerous and time-constrained.
"It sounded a relatively easy and attractive proposition at first but as it progressed it was clear it wasn't going to be achievable in the short time frame given," Douglas said.
One of the biggest obstacles, which the Pickers overcame, was the requirement to field Tier 1 and 2 teams in Newcastle as well as the Presidents Cup.
Douglas said the return of sport, in particular the Goannas would provide the Cessnock community with a real lift after the tough times of the Covid-19 restrictions.
IN OTHER LEAGUE NEWS:Greta-Branxton and Singleton set to play in all-age comp
"Once we kick the ball and there's a bit of competition, once the draw has been released we should get more player numbers along," she said
"It's a good thing that the footy's going to be back, it's a good thing for our town, our sponsors our club.
"All in all it's not ideal, but hopefully we get 10 good rounds of footy and we can use it as a development.
"Todd (Edwards) will be able to spend a lot of time with some of the younger fringe first-grade players to fast track them.
"They played the Challenge Cup for him and did really well, so it will be great to see their development.
Do you know you can subscribe to get full access to all Maitland Mercury stories? Subscribing supports us in our local news coverage. To subscribe, click here.