Rugby union: Josh Stewart chases fairytale finish as Newcastle set sights on Caldwell Cup

FOCUSED: Merewether breakaway Josh Stewart hopes to claim the Caldwell Cup in what shapes as his final tilt at the NSW Country Championships: Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

MEREWETHER breakaway Josh Stewart has captained the NSW Country Cockatoos and was awarded the Will Tanner Medal as their player of the year in 2012.

But in eight attempts with Central North the Wee Waa-born, Tamworth-raised ball-pilferer has been unable to get his hands on the Caldwell Cup –the holy grailof Country rugby.

It is a statistic the 31-year-old hopes to correct this weekend.

Playing in what is most likely his last Country Championships, Stewart will pack down at openside breakaway for a Newcastle outfit, which has been beaten in the past two finals.

They meet Central West at 11.40am on Saturday. Victory will propel them into the final and a date against either defending champions Illawarra or Central North.

“I’m treating it as my last one,” Stewart said. “I’m pretty sure I will retire at the end of the year and possibly go into coaching.With injuries and me getting old, I’m probably better to give themknowledge than the body. I think this will be my ninth Country Championships. I played in a final for Central North in Bathurst when I was really youngbut haven’t won one. Newcastle haven’t won for a couple of years so it would be nice to get one.”

Newcastle have lost the past two deciders to Illawarra but Stewart insiststhey arenot looking past Central West.

“Central West are always a dark horse,” said Stewart, who is in his second season at the Greens. “Every year is a surprise.They either have the players or they don’t. From all reports that have a pretty good side.”

Stewart, who is part of a powerhouse back-row alongside Hamilton duo Steve Sione and Joe Akkersdyk, expects the Blue Bulls to take them on up front.

“The first 20 minutes will be pretty torrid,” he said. “We need to weather the early storm remember the game is 80 minutes.”

Newcastle: 1 Ben Christensen, 2 Steve Lamont (c), 3 Favaae Sila, 4 Nathan Brennan, 5 Seva Rokobaro, 6 Sione, 7 Stewart, 8Akkersdyk, 9 Jono O’Toole, 10 Dane Sharratt, 11 Sireli Bainivalu, 12 Jay Strachan (vc), 13 Sam Foggarty, 14 Tim Marsh, 15 Adrian Delore, 16 Barcelona Lupematasila, 17 Sapati Peniata, 18 Leeland Marshall, 19 Glenn Stone, 20 Ben Ham,21Sonni Halanukonuka, 22Paddy Killmurray, 23Tom Emayel, 24Rapine Mason.

Meanwhile Newcastle junior Harry Chapman and Harry Johnson-Holmes helped steer n under-20s to a 43-20 win over Samoa in the opening game of the Oceania Championship on the Gold Coast on Friday.

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