NORTH Tamworth Bears returned to Scully Park to avenge their 2013 Group 4 grand final loss against West Lions in yesterday’s Wests Group 4 Knockout and signal their favouritism for a 2014 premiership with a 22-8 win over the young and largely different Lions.
On a day where Oxley Diggers’ ladies’ league tag side won the club its first trophy with a 14-4 win over North Tamworth and Barraba won a second successive Second Division KO with a 22-20 victory over Dungowan Cowboys, the Bears were red hot favourites to annex the main KO Final and the $4000 winner’s cheque.
With no Tony La Chiusa at the helm or stars such as Matt Nean, Brendan Hunt and Chris Vidler to lead the Lions, the Bears tried to muck it all up, bombing three tries and trailing 4-nil.
Lanky new West centre James Blackburn gathered a long pass from teenage star Mitch Doring to score and give the new-look Lions, under captain-coach Chris Hunt, a shock lead after 17 minutes into the final.
Richard Clegg did manage to dive over out wide a minute before half-time for the Bears and make it 4-all at halftime.
The Bears were better in the second half.
Jake Cocking bulldozed over early on after a good break from tall centre Brad Marshall to make it 10-4 and a brilliantly simple play from Zac Russ down the blind engineered a sleek try for Abel Carney and a 16-4 lead.
However the gallant Lions weren’t done with and Phil Beaton’s good pass found Blackburn steaming into a hole and his second try.
Trailing 16-8, it could have been even closer after Doring’s lightning chip, chase and regather failed to deliver the final try-scoring blow.
The Bears steadied and Russ sealed the win when he dived over three minutes from fulltime for a 22-8 win.
North coach Brad McManus thought it a great weekend for his side.
“It was a good hit-out for us,” McManus said.
“A great start to the year. It was good to win but we can’t get carried away.”
Bears skipper Marshall Barker reiterated that.
“All the boys played well but we’ve got a bit to work on.
“Bombing those three tries in the first half wasn’t the start we wanted but we stuck at it.
“Beating West was good too but it was good for Chris (Hunt) and his West side to play well too.
“They all stuck around and didn’t leave when West looked like folding and they will develop into a good side on that.”
Hunt thought his side played awesome over the weekend.
“I’m as proud as anything of these boys,” he said.
“Three weeks ago we had eight players signed and could have folded.
“We got four boys from second division and a few from reserve grade.
“In one of our trials we had 10 of our Under 18s play.
“So there’s plenty of improvement ahead of this team.”
The likes of hard-hitting, bandy-legged second-rower Tom Hine, a son and nephew of former West Tamworth first grade forwards Mick and Tim Hine, ooze promise.
Young prop Jake McLachlan is another with good potential and Doring was quick and impressive at fullback.