TAMWORTH backed up their best performance in years with one of their most disappointing, according to coach Ross Duncan as the Magpies prepare for their first taste of finals footy in years, while their opponents Barraba are on a three-game hot streak.
Two weeks ago the Magpies finally put one over the Tier 2-leading Walcha Rams with a well-rounded effort, before capitulating to Barraba, who they host in the final on Sunday.
“We have had much bigger losses but our enthusiasm and attitude let us down in Barraba,” Duncan said.
“Our whole team was flat and our set pieces really struggled.
“Lucky we did that in the last round and not the final.”
The coach remains quietly confident that the Magpies can take that next step and book another date with Walcha or Scone, who clash in the major final.
“... If we tighten up our set piece, stick to the game plan and play to our potential,” Duncan said.
While the Magpies’ backline is coming into its own, it is in the forwards that they have been most impressive and witnessed the most improvement over the season.
The addition of last year’s NERU Player of the Year Mitch Wheaton has been a boon for the side.
Wheaton’s physicality, ball-running and basic skills have lifted the pack.
“He has brought a lot to the side,” Duncan said.
“He has the ability to always make the advantage line and has a good offload.”
Wheaton, captain Rhys Duncan and flanker Harry Veitch will all have to be at the top of their game if they are to beat Barraba this week.
The Rams’ forwards had the Magpies going backwards in the wet last Saturday and will be hoping to do the same on a dry track this week.
Barraba fly half and last weekend’s man of the match, Kris Halloran, has praised the new two-tier format on the eve of the Rams’ first finals appearance in years.
The Rams are also coming in quietly confident after the decisive win last week.
After a poor start to the year the Rams have now beaten Scone, Quirindi and Tamworth on the trot,” Halloran said.
“It gives us plenty of confidence. We held the ball well and dominated the scrums.”
The new format has given the Rams a finals berth, even though they would have finished second last on the table in front of wooden-spooners Quirindi.
“We have been getting good numbers at training and have won three in a row,” Halloran said.
“We beat Scone and Tamworth, Tamworth beat Walcha, and Walcha beat Scone and us so anyone can win it.
“The tier system has been good.”
The CNRU finals kick off this weekend with Moree playing Gunnedah in Tier 1 at Moree, and Tamworth hosting Barraba on Sunday at Rugby Park.