North Tamworth will be a better side for having played Cessnock in an opening-round clash of the NSW Challenge Cup in Cessnock on Saturday night, says Bears coach Brad McManus.
The Goannas - beaten first-grade grand finallists in Newcastle last season - ran over the top of Norths in the second half, in a 40-0 win in the knockout tournament.
McManus said the Bears stayed with Cessnock in the first half (the Goannas led 8-0 at the break) but "just a lack of fitness sort of beat us in the second half".
The experienced mentor, back in charge after a two-year, said the clash was "absolutely" a worthwhile experience.
"It was really good; it was a good hitout," he said. "I think we'll be better for it, rolling into the Group 4 season."
McManus said Cessnock started preseason training in November, well before the Bears, and it showed.
"They were half a yard in front of us all game," he said
"We're a young side and sort of going through a little bit of a thing [rebuild].
"But, yeah, the boys held their own, and we're pretty happy with it. It was good to come out and play a good opposition."
McManus said it rained the entire match, but excellent drainage meant there were no puddles on the ground.
With the Bears losing veteran prop Shane Wadwell (retirement) at the end of last season, they appear to have a ready-made replacement in Tom Woolaston.
The experienced prop - the grandson of Bears founding president Jack Woolaston - has returned to Tamworth after first-grade stints with Lakes United, in Newcastle, and Carina, in Brisbane.
He is a Bears junior and played first grade at the club as a teenager. The Goannas named the 29-year-old Norths' best player.
"He'll be thereabouts," McManus said of Woolaston's first-grade selection chances. "He's goin' all right. He had a good game yesterday [Saturday]."