Rival premiers Maitland Pickers and Cessnock Goannas square off

FLASHBACK: Maitlasnd celebrate the Presidents Cup win in September 2020 with coach Matt Lantry being drenched. Picture Smart Artist.

FLASHBACK: Maitlasnd celebrate the Presidents Cup win in September 2020 with coach Matt Lantry being drenched. Picture Smart Artist.

It's too early in the season to call it a blockbuster, but it's a cracking game all the same at Maitland Sportsground on Saturday between two long-time arch enemies.

In the red corner, the Newcastle Rugby League premiers, the Cessnock Goannas, fresh from two wins from two games, including a last start 20-12 success over perennial powerhouse, Western Suburbs.

In the blue corner, the Maitland Pickers, premiers in last season's Presidents Cup competition, and coming off a 39-6 demolition of the strong Wyong side in their only match so far.

Goannas coach Todd Edwards is under no illusion about how tough the challenge will be.

"I see Maitland as the benchmark," Edwards said. "They have a really strong roster, and the Wyong road trip is as tough as any in our competition.

"To put 40 points on them ... that's impressive, especially as it was Maitland's first start of the season."

Pickers coach Matt Lantry chooses his words with equal care - both coaches far too shrewd to say anything that might fire up an already formidable opponent.

"They've been red hot so far," Lantry said. "Two games, two wins and a premiership last season.

"We know the depth they have so we also see this as a test for ourselves."

Clearly we can rule out any pre-game barbs.

CHAMPIONS: Cessnock players on the way to last season's grand final win over Souths.

CHAMPIONS: Cessnock players on the way to last season's grand final win over Souths.

There's no denying Goannas coach Todd Edwards worked wonders with a new-look side last season to go on to defeat Souths in the grand final.

And despite another eight players leaving at the start of this season, he has somehow managed to get together a very strong squad.

Their 20-12 win over Wests last week was full of merit - tough and uncompromising - the sort of win a coach loves .

"I'm really happy with where we're at," he admitted. "I thought it would have taken us another six weeks to progress to where we are.

"The good thing about my guys is they are not afraid to test themselves. And Maitland is a big test. But whatever happens, we'll be better for it. "

Edwards has a tough young pack who won't take a backwards step, a classy half in Gerome Burns who is a former Broncos under 20 player, his brother Denzel who is lightning fast on the wing, and a powerful centre in Tyrone Roberts-Davis. Throw in the likes of wily Liam Foran on the bench and there's no shortage of strikepower.

Maitland coach Matt Lantry was thrilled with his side's 39-6 hammering of Wyong and knows Cessnock will be tough.

KEY MAN: Pickers skipper Alex Langbridge.

KEY MAN: Pickers skipper Alex Langbridge.

"Probably as good a round one performance as I've been associated with," he said.

"There were a few issues with timing, but as we only played one trial game that was to be expected."

With Matt Allwood shining in the forwards, and Jarom Haines extremely dangerous at centre - two tries plus one assist - it was a mighty first up effort.

"Matt was superb, hitting really hard in defence and Jarom was always dangerous.

"I also liked the way our playmakers, Brock Lamb, Chad O'Donell and Alex Langbridge were able to control the game.

"But Cessnock will lift. They always do. Both sides will have to dig deep."

However you look at it, it will be a beauty. These are two teams who will meet again when the stakes are much higher.

For now, sit back and enjoy a good old fashioned derby.

This story Rival premiers Pickers and Goannas square off first appeared on The Maitland Mercury.