THE NORTH Tamworth Bears have been touted as favourites for the Group 4 season although coach Brad McManus is having none of it.
The coach is taking 2014 one game at a time and knows that a week is a long time in rugby league.
“It is great that people are saying that and we should be thereabouts,” McManus said.
“But no one has seen any team playing at full strength yet.”
That one game at a time will start today at 3.30pm when the Bears face Wee Waa in the Wests Knockout at Scully Park.
The last time the two sides met was in the preliminary final last year.
The Bears came from behind that day to snatch the win and the Panthers will be out for some redemption today.
Mick Watton and Jake Hawkins will not be in the side this year, although they have picked up centre Zac Russ from Narrabri.
“Zac (Russ) has been in top form,” McManus said.
“Along with Brad Marshall on the other side we will be strong on the edges.”
“If either one of them gets one on one they will be very hard to handle.”
The coach is looking for the senior players in the team to lead the way through the Knockout and take some momentum into the season.
Marshall Barker had a huge season last year and will once again lead the side.
Richard Clegg and Kieran Fisher are also in the leadership group.
Both players and coaches are champing at the bit to get the season and the Knockout underway.
“It is always a long off-season,” McManus said.
“We are ready for a big year.”
The Bears also have Gunnedah on their side of the draw, and are wary of the young Bulldogs.
“I have heard they have got some good young blokes coming through this season,” McManus said.
“They should do well.”
The Knockout is always a tough way to start the season off and can test the depth of sides.
“Two or three games over a weekend can knock blokes around at the start of the season,” McManus said.
“We have been training and trialling hard and should be right.”
“It is a great opportunity to check the other sides out before the season starts.”
The other side of the draw will see premiers West take on Narrabri today.
The Knockout will be a huge weekend of footy, with 12 ladies’ League Tag sides, 10 Second Division and reserve grade sides and all six First Division sides.
Games will kick off at 9.30am on both Scully Park 1 and 2 today and tomorrow with the finals starting at 1.30pm tomorrow.
Group 4 will then have the Easter long weekend off before first grade kicks off the weekend after.
North will start its season proper with a huge local derby against West.