NORTH Tamworth Bears second-rower James Cooper believes the best way to to stop the dangerous West backline in tomorrow’s final is stop the ball getting to them.
Cooper and his Bears teammates have hatched a plan to not allow the Lions to pounce early like they did in the major semi-final where the Lions scored four unmatched tries in the first 20 minutes.
“We only had the ball nine times in the first 17 minutes, 17 tackles all up,” Cooper said.
“We were making a lot of errors as a side.”
In order to keep the rustiness at bay, captain -coach Zac Russ simulated a game day last Saturday in preparation for their second home grand final in a row.
“We trained at full contact for 85 minutes,” Cooper said.
“It was a pretty heavy session and there were plenty of sore bodies on Sunday.”
Russ has also had the Bears hitting hard at regular training as well.
“We have really been focusing on our attitude in defence.”
“We want to be big, strong and dominant so have been doing a lot of heavy contact and putting our bodies in uncomfortable positions,” he said.
The Bears’ front row – the like of Bill Jeffrey, Ky Ruru and ‘Nemo’ Navatu – will need to be on their game from the whistle after the Lions took the early advantage in the semi.
“It will be won and lost in the middle,” Cooper said.
“The first 20 minutes will be all about set completion so those guys are going to have to have big games.
“We all will.”
Cooper has been a part of the Bears’ last two grand final teams, one the last of the Lions’ five straight titles, before the record-breaking Clayton Cup-winning side that was unbeaten last season.
“That was an amazing year but we can’t compare them,” Cooper said.
“We are a different side and this West team is a different side.
“They’re a lot closer to the team that beat us in 2013.”
The players the Bears will target are big ball runners Chris Vidler and Kyle Cochrane, who have been destroying defensive lines all season.
“They are such dominant runners and then Matt Nean and Sean (Nean) feed off the back of them.
“We have to meet them in the middle and not let them get that ball going forward.”
Cooper said the Bears try to always base their games on defence, but place an even bigger emphasis on their line security come finals time.
“It is not uncommon for Group 4 games to have really high scores – teams regularly put 40 points on each other,” he said.
“If you get your defence right you win it.”
“We just have to turn up for each other and watch our discipline.”
Discipline has played a big role in all their meetings this season and despite the second- rower spending ten minutes on the sideline in the major semi, he is confident that it won’t happen again.
“You can’t play a grand final with 12 players,” Cooper said.
“There will be plenty of passion from both sides but it is all about the team.”