They say staying on top is harder than getting there. North Tamworth captain-coach Scott Blanch seems to concur. But in winning their record sixth-straight premiership at Jack Woolaston Oval on a warm Saturday afternoon, the Bears made being No.1 look easy.
Their defeat of Kootingal-Moonbi was expected - but perhaps the scoreline was not: the 40-4 final result coming when the Bears lifted in the second half after it was 12-0 at the break.
It was the second biggest winning margin in Norths' dynastic reign. They won by 38 points when they beat Gunnedah 56-18 in 2014 - the first of their six premierships. That year the Bears were awarded their second Clayton Cup for having the season's best record in NSW country rugby league. It is expected the 2019 side - perhaps the best of the past six seasons - will win the Cup again.
It was the Bears' 44th consecutive home win, their last defeat at Jack Woolaston Oval a narrow loss to West Tamworth in round three of 2015. Their six titles surpasses the five straight Wests won from 2009 to 2013. Wests beat Norths in four of those grand finals.
The clinical disposal of Kooty was the highlight of a glorious day for the Bears: their league taggers and under-18s won earlier on Saturday.
In first grade, veteran Bears prop Shane Wadwell played his last match. He was inspiring: the man of the match award and another premiership a wonderful way for the tough footballer to bow out. He was relentless on Saturday, taking hit up after hit. A noted big-match player, he seemed to elevate his game even further. Norths have been in nine consecutive grand finals, and only Wadwell and Bears centre Richard Clegg have played in all of them.
Post-match, Blanch spoke about the pressure he felt being the side's captain-coach the past two years. The skilful No.6 scored two tries against Kooty - both in the second half. The second one was a long-range solo effort down the left edge, which he again orchestrated so potently, and where Norths launched the vast majority of their offensive forays from.
This is Blanch's fourth-consecutive premiership, and he appeared to indicate that the past two were the most personally satisfying because he was captain-coach. Being in that role and winning a title was a "different feeling", he said, adding: "A lot of relief, and it's pretty special to me."
Blanch also spoke about the hard work that goes into this high-functioning machine behind the scenes to keep it No.1.
"There's a lot of effort that goes into our training," he said, "and we don't talk about it enough. And that's it. That's why we're so competitive, because we compete at training and we work hard. You know, that's it; that's it."
On Friday, Kooty coach Geoff Sharpe said his charges needed to "stay in the arm wrestle" with Norths early, and on Saturday they managed to do it. But you sensed that if Norths struck first in the second half, they would win the match.
That obviously occurred, with No.15 Brock Wadwell scooting from dummy half to score a soft close-range try. Back-rower Jake McManus converted: 18-0.
There was plenty of time left, and Kooty were still in the match (on the scoreboard, at least). But the try was quite possibly a major psychological blow to the Roosters, while it motivated Norths further.
The floodgates had been opened, and Norths ran in tries via Blanch, replacement forward Jack Patterson, Blanch again and Wadwell. The Bears' first-half tries were posted by winger Chris Hunt, who superbly cut back infield inside Kooty's 20-metre zone to score near the upright, and halfback Kieran Fisher. McManus - Group 4's player of the year in 2019 - landed six conversions.
The Roosters' sole try of the match came just before full-time, when No.6 Sam Taylor's shallow cross-field kick inside Norths' 20m zone was caught in-goal by winger Will Saunders.
Standing in-goal awaiting the unsuccessful conversion, Norths' players were already celebrating.
NORTH TAMWORTH 40 (Scott Blanch 2, Chris Hunt, Kieran Fisher, Brock Wadwell, Jack Patterson, Shane Wadwell tries, Jake McManus 6 goals) d KOOTINGAL-MOONBI 4 (Will Saunders try)