Magpies to host Denman for centenary clash
BY ALEX TIGANI
There will be a special deal for those attending the Merriwa Magpies’ upcoming reserve grade clash against Denman.
If you attend the game wearing a retro jersey, you will be granted free entry.
This will be the Bengalla Hunter Valley Group 21 rugby league’s standalone match of the June long weekend to honour the centenary of the club.
“We found out it was 100 years on pure luck,” Merriwa Magpies president Phil Neale told The Hunter River Times.
“This match is about the history and we want to get as many of the boys back here because we also played Denman in our first year in 1923.
“Clayton Edwards discovered an article which said we won 10-8 that year and Jane Walmsley could not find an earlier reference so we set this date just before the season started.
“It is a huge deal for Denman as well because they had their centenary last year and there is no other footy that weekend so we’d love to have all of the Group 21 clubs here.”
The Magpies will first play Aberdeen this Sunday in what will be their first meeting since last year’s heartbreaking 24-22 preliminary final defeat.
Merriwa’s playing coach Jeremy Nicholls, who had previously played with the Tigers, was stung by the result last year however he believes his men can go all the way in 2023 following recent wins against Denman (12-6), Muswellbrook (46-10), Scone (30-20) and Greta Branxton (22-10).
“You would be silly to not dream about it,” Nicholls explained.
“You try and focus on the week-to-week games, but it is every rugby league player’s dream.
“I would probably need some of the older boys to calm my own head down to get them right on the day but that is the ultimate award for coaching.”
The 30-year-old initially considered coaching five years earlier however is thankful he waited until season 2023.
With only a sprinkling of the club’s 2019 grand final winning side remaining on the park, Nicholls heads a long list of players hoping to join the premiership club.
“Admittedly, 2019 was the one year I didn’t play and that day I was part of a wedding party that ran 30 minutes late to the ceremony because we were listening to the final,” he laughed.
The Magpies prevailed 26-6 in that year’s season decider to end an 18-year premiership drought under playing coach Nathan Barry.
Barry, who turns 36 this year, admits he wants to finish his career with one more title.
Yet even a second medallion would be hard to knock off his last grand final performance off the mantle when reflecting on his decorated career.
“I can’t take 2019 away personally because I poured everything I had into that season,” Barry shared.
“The group started training three months before the season and I started training three months before pre-season.
“I don’t think I can top that but it would be pretty special to win this year to finish with a premiership for our new coach and our new boys.” To add to the narrative, Barry will be lining up for his 150th club game when the Magpies play host to Denman.