North Tamworth have made an eighth consecutive grand final, as they shoot for five successive premierships, but in a 20-minute period on Sunday they missed a prime opportunity to bury Kootingal-Moonbi psychologically in the Roosters’ own backyard.
Should the Roosters beat Gunnedah in the preliminary final at Kootingal next weekend and advance to the grand final, in their debut top-grade season, they will be emboldened by the three unanswered tries they scored in the second half in a 24-16 major preliminary final loss to Norths at Kootingal on Sunday.
Down 22-0 with 20 minutes left in the match, in a contest played in the wet, Kooty’s numerous big-game players found an extra gear when they needed it most.
The Bears dominated the first 60 minutes, to record their second straight win over Kooty this season, but the Roosters emerged not too mentally scarred.
Kooty’s clash against Gunnedah, 34-28 winners over Werris Creek in a knockout final at Kitchener Park on Saturday, promises to be a treat, in what has been a successful revamp of the first-grade competition following years of malaise.
On Sunday, North Tamworth led 12-0 at the break after tries to winger Zac Nigro and prop Jack Patterson.
And when Norths back-rower McManus fielded a down-field kick on the first bounce in the 54th minute and raced about 30 metres to post his second try of the day, after earlier pouncing on a deft grubber from his captain-coach Scott Blanch to score, the Bears had established a 22-0 lead and a momentum that only a good side like the minor premiers could arrest.
The fightback was launched when No.6 Jordan Sharpe breached Norths’ defences after a Kooty scrum feed 10m out from the Bears’ tryline.
That was followed by fullback Mitch Doring going himself in the Bears’ 10m zone to score, after being put through a gap by No.7 Sam Taylor.
And then veteran second-rower Kyle “Yum Yum” Cochrane crashed over under the posts.
But as stirring as Kooty’s fightback was, the most telling narrative to come out of the match is Norths making another grand final.
Veteran centre Richard Clegg, a rock on the right edge for North Tamworth, has played in seven straight grand finals for the Bears – soon to be eight.
Clegg said Norths’ winning formula was, in large part, founded on the players “sticking together” and “turning up for one another each week”.
“It’s a really good feeling,” he said, presumably referring to making another grand final. He added: “We’ve got a lot of experience in key positions. It’s good to get a win at Kooty after growing up here.”
Clegg said Sunday’s clash was “good, hard” wet weather football played up the middle.
He praised his forwards but lamented Norths “getting a little but scrappy” in the second half. “You give a good side like that plenty of ball, they’re gonna make you pay for it,” he said.
The good news for Kooty ahead of the Gunnedah clash is that Taylor, Phil Beaton and Jake McLoughlin returned from lengthy injury absences against Norths.
Veteran prop Beaton was immediately back to his damaging best, producing a series of strong hit-ups.
NORTH TAMWORTH 24 (J McManus 2, Z Nigro, J Patterson tries; McManus 4 goals) d KOOTINGAL-MOONBI 16 (M Doring, J Sharpe, K Cochrane tries; Doring 2 goals)
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