North Tamworth hooker Ryan Ingram says the four-time reigning premiers are unfazed by their narrow failure to secure another minor premiership, because the “big prize” is all that counts.
He spoke after Norths thumped the Cowboys 72-12 at Dungowan on Saturday in the final round before the finals, but still came up short in the minor premiership race after Kootingal-Moonbi beat the Blues 64-12 in Narrabri on the same afternoon.
The Bears and the Roosters finished equal on 24 points but the latter had a better for-and-against percentage of 14 points.
In their four straight premierships, only once did North Tamworth fail to finish on top, when West Tamworth shaded them in 2015.
Ingram said that while finishing first was “always a big carrot”, “the big prize at the end is the one you wanna get”.
“So we’re just looking at that now,” he added.
Kooty get the first week of the finals off next weekend, with the Bears and the Bulldogs meeting at Jack Woolaston Oval and the Magpies and the Blues clashing at Werris Creek in the knockout final.
Dungowan needed to beat Norths to have any chance of leapfrogging Narrabri but realistically, that was never going to happen.
Bears halfback Kieran Fisher went himself in Dungowan’s 10-metre zone to score next to the uprights in the second minute of the match, and the visitors were on their way to a rout.
The most interesting aspect of the match was the shootout with Kooty, as the ground announcer regularly supplied update scores from Collins Park. Norths played with the elevated urgency of a side trying to bridge a 22-point for-and-against deficit.
They also played in a spiteful match, with pugnacious Cowboys captain-coach Lochie Collins at the centre of the acrimony.
But that is neither here nor there.
In the first year of Group 4’s radical revamp of its premier competition, the finals are now upon as after what is an improved competition compared the recent past.
And when first-year Norths captain-coach Scott Blanch puts his head on the pillow on Saturday night, you would imagine he’d be feeling pretty confident about the Bears’ chances of making it five straight premierships.
Because after a July form wobble in which they almost lost to Narrabri and lost to Gunnedah, before rebounding with a big win over Werris Creek, the Bears will carry good momentum into the finals.
They are also at full strength, or close to it. While Kootingal-Moonbi have lost halfback-captain Sam Taylor (knee) for the season, and their forwards leader, veteran prop Phil Beaton (shoulder), is not expected to play again.
At Dungowan, Norths led 42-6 at halftime. Five players bagged a try double – centre Tristram Morris, to take his season tally to 13 tries in seven matches, exciting winger Zac Nigro, Fisher and second-rowers Brad Marshall and Jake McManus.
Ingram said: “We were really good in the first half. We were a bit undisciplined in the second half … but we defended good and I was pretty happy with the performance.”
NORTH TAMWORTH 72 (Tristram Morris 2, Zac Nigro 2, Kieran Fisher 2, Brad Marshall 2, Jake McManus 2, Chris Hunt, Ryan Ingram, Colby La Chiusa tries; McManus 10 goals) d DUNGOWAN 12 (Mark Macauley, Jack Rumsby tries; Josh Crittenden, Brock Morgan goals)