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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
National
Josh Callinan

Newcastle RL: Kirkwood tackles old club for last GF spot

Macquarie recruit Connor Kirkwood will play against former club Cessnock for a spot in the Newcastle Rugby League grand final. Picture by Marina Neil.

Connor Kirkwood says "it's funny how things work out".

The Macquarie recruit will face off against former club Cessnock at Toronto this weekend with the last spot in this year's Newcastle Rugby League grand final up for grabs.

Kirkwood, who turns 24 on Friday, made the switch ahead of the 2022 season.

"It's funny how things work out," he told the Newcastle Herald.

"If you had of asked me at the start of the year I wouldn't have believed it, but these are the games you want to play in.

"It doesn't matter who's in front of us, we know what we've got to do and now we've got to get the job done."

Kirkwood, a Greta-Branxton junior, made his first-grade debut for Cessnock aged 17.

He represented the Goannas in the 2019 decider, going down to Wests, before being named man-of-the-match in the same game 12 months later having helped defeat Souths to end a COVID-impacted campaign.

Cessnock were again en route for the top five in 2021 before play was abandoned because of the global health pandemic.

"Having that experience in big games helps this time of year," Kirkwood said.

"Preliminary finals don't come round every day and I know myself how hard they are to play in and get to.

"Back playing juniors and winning grand finals all the time, people used to say make the most of it because when you get older they don't come around that often. It's so true.

"I just want to make every post a winner and make the most of this opportunity."

Kirkwood admits "it was honestly one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make" leaving Cessnock, but added "the only way to grow as a player and a person is to get outside of your comfort zone, go somewhere else and push yourself".

"I think my footy has gone to another level," he said.

Kirkwood, originally a halfback who has now shifted positions to lock and middle forward, says he's relished being part of Macquarie's pack alongside the likes of Luke Higgins and Matt Moon.

"We're not a big pack, but we're very mobile and fit. We've got blokes who can play big minutes," he said.

Macquarie arrives at Saturday's preliminary final at Lyall Peacock Field (2pm) following an up-and-down fortnight, beating Central (36-18) before losing to Maitland (42-14).

"It's one of those games you've just got to scrap," Kirkwood said about the major semi.

Cessnock have enjoyed back-to-back success in elimination encounters.

The Scorpions and Goannas have split the spoils so far in 2022, winning away matches 20-10 (April 9) and 11-10 (June 18) respectively.

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