Tobin Bush.An under-strength Maitland Rams face the toughest test of the season so far when they host top four rivals Norths on Sunday.

Maitland will be without player-coach Nathan Baker and Brett Gallagher, who are in Nowra representing Newcastle over 35s.

The Rams are looking to bounce back from their 3-1 loss against Souths last time out, but won’t find the going any easier against the perennially strong Norths team.

Last week’s results have seen the table turn into a logjam with Norths a point behind The Entrance at the top, with Souths a point back in third and Maitland a further point adrift in fourth.

Baker believes the competition is the closest in recent memory.

“It’s probably the tightest the comp has been since I came back from Sydney four years ago,” Baker said.

“Everyone is taking points off each other, we’ve beaten everyone except Norths and we’re probably due for a win against them.

“Traditionally we’ve been good against them at home, I think it comes down to our mindset and taking our chances.”

Baker said that his team needed to improve on some mental aspects that let the Rams down against Souths.

“I think the level of intensity let us down a bit last week, our mindset when we went a goal up was too defensive,” Baker said.

“The boys went a goal up and Souths kind of came back at us, we spoke at halftime that we couldn’t just defend it.

“It’s a mental thing, once we get put under pressure by these top teams we seem a bit cautious and sit back.

“We need to take it to them this week and have a red hot go.”

Baker said his squad will be able to cover him and Gallagher in their absence and their unavailability provides second grade players with the chance to step up.

“We have some really good guys from seconds who have played all year off the bench,” Baker said.

“They’ll step in and I think we’ll be OK.”

The match starts at noon at the Maitland Hockey Centre.

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