The magnitude of the task facing Gunnedah in the grand final at Jack Woolaston Oval on Sunday is illustrated by a cold hard statistic.
In the time that has passed since Norths last lost at home, the team that did that, West Tamworth, imploded, another first-grade club, Oxley Diggers, changed their name to Collegian Warriors and then folded.
Also, the Armidale Rams spent one unsuccessful year in Group 4’s premier division and then left, as did Wee Waa. And, oh, Group 4 revamped the competition.
Since a 30-28 loss to West Lions in round three in 2015, Norths have been unbeatable at Bear Park.
The Leader led with the winning streak ahead of the Bears’ grand final defeat of Narrabri last year. The win in the finale took the streak to 28. They have added another six home wins this season.
For 34 consecutive matches the Bears have turned their home ground into a graveyard for visiting teams, and will attempt to win their fifth consecutive grand final this weekend – the previous four won at Jack Woolaston Oval.
The loss to Wests in 2013 was North Tamworth’s only home defeat in the past five years.
Throughout the Bears’ dominance, Gunnedah have been a constant.
Norths’ impeccable home-ground pedigree was built on their mighty pack. But Gunnedah showed in their narrow qualifying final loss to the Bears at Jack Woolaston Oval, and again in their preliminary final win over Kooty, that they have a finals-ready pack.
Fresh from being named player of the year for the second time, Norths captain-coach Scott Blanch is expecting a brutal forwards battle on Sunday.
“As a half, you need your boys [forwards] to get over the top of the other boys,” the five-eighth said, adding that Bulldogs halves Matt Brady and DJ Smith would be “geeing up their boys to make sure they get over the top of us”.
Norths are expected to be at full strength on Sunday, while Gunnedah will be without dynamic fullback Dylan Lake after he broke his leg against the Roosters.
Marcus Hayne has been selected at fullback but Bulldogs coach Sean Hayne said: “At the moment we might stick Marcus in the No.1 [but] whether he plays there or not [I’m] not too sure. We’ve got a few options there in the team. A couple of blokes have played a fair bit of fullback before.”
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