THE loss of North stars Abel Carney and Nic Dobson will take nothing away from the feeling in this weekend’s local derby at Jack Woolaston Oval.
North Tamworth Bears and West Lions will meet for the third time this season, with the Lions yet to register a win over their crosstown rivals.
Four of the last five years, North Tamworth has been the bridesmaid to West, although a dominant unbeaten run this season could mark a turning of the tide.
While the Bears will miss the season’s top pointscorer in Carney (190), they will regain the services of top tryscorer Callum Hayne (13), who has been away on U18 NSW Country duties.
Usual centre Zac Russ will step into the role of five-eighth this weekend, with fullback Richard Clegg likely to take kicking duties.
Utility Ky Ruru will come off the bench into the centres, and Shaun Ferguson will move to lock to replace Dobson.
Last week’s three-try hero, Brock Wadwell, will come off the bench and resume his role at hooker.
“We won’t miss much with Zac in the halves,” McManus said.
“He is the best centre in the group and knows the game well.”
The coach doesn’t want to get carried away just yet but is excited about this season’s possibilities.
“We recruited quite well and are starting to look the goods,” McManus said.
“The goal is always to win a premiership.
“But anything can happen.”
Losing four of the past five grand finals has forged the Bears into a ruthless unit, who never take their foot off until the final whistle.
This season they have demoralised sides with huge scores, including scoring 201 points over two games early in the year.
West has lost both games to North this season by 30 points although, except for a 14 point Gunnedah loss, that is the closest any side has gone.
The Bears average almost 68 points a game and have only been conceding 15.
“We have been building into something,” McManus said.
“We will go in with a plan and hopefully it works.”
Halfback Kieran Fisher will take more of a leadership role directing the side on the field, and the Bears will stick to their guns.
All season the North pack has stung in defence and dominated possession and territory, and that is the same plan they are taking into the derby.
The backline contains two of the group’s best centres in Russ and Brad Marshall and, with Carney and Fisher finding their combination, the Bear attack is deadly.
This weekend marks the start of the final round, with a general bye next weekend before four more games to the finals.
North looks like certainties to take the minor premiership and play in a fourth straight grand final.
“We always want to win but I have been around this local derby for ten years,” McManus said.
“It doesn’t matter how the teams are going.
“Anything can happen,” he said.