WITH four years and two premierships at West Tamworth, second-rower Shane Salvador believes this year’s grand finalists are the closest-knit team he can remember at the Lions’ den.
Salvador has missed large parts of the season due to injury and work but will be there again, all guns blazing for a grand final at North Tamworth.
“I don’t want to make any predictions but it feels a lot like the 2013 season to me,” Salvador said.
That year the Lions were also beaten by Norths in a home semi-final before scoring late to just beat Narrabri in the preliminary final and going on to beat the Bears at Jack Woolaston in the final.
“It is just the same feel around training and the season,” Salvador said.
“Playing-wise, it hasn’t been good for me but it has just been really good to be a part of this team this season.
“Our supporters are coming back and the atmosphere around the club is the best I have seen it.”
Salvador has seen the highs and lows in the past two seasons after the Lions pulled off one of the quickest turn-arounds in memory.
Following the end of the Tony La Chiusa era in 2013, several of the Lions stalwarts also called it quits and the club slipped to fourth last year.
This season, the return of a few players has done the exact opposite and rocketed them back to the top after they came out and became the first side to beat Norths at home in two seasons.
“It was a bit strange,” Salvador said.
“We went from a pretty disappointing year straight back to contenders.”
“That is the turnaround in the club.”
Part of that turnaround has seen the Lions learn to control their aggression, although they don’t want it to disappear.
“It is important to be aggressive but to control it,” Salvador said.
“It gets the better of us sometimes but when we take charge of it we are very hard to beat.”
While scoring points has been the Lions’ best form of defence this season, the second-rower believes that points might not be enough against the Bears.
“No scoreline is good enough against Norths because they just keep coming all game.
“We need to get in front and defend and stick to our game.”
Salvador will almost certainly have an impact from the bench and only adds to the side after missing the preliminary final last week.
Jake McLoughlin slotted into his role this season and has made it his own, with a couple of big runs down the left edge against Gunnedah last week.
“The forward pack has bonded so well between the old blokes and the exciting new kids like McLoughlin,” Salvador said.
Chris Vidler and Kyle Cochrane are the game breakers in the pack but the rest, like Ben Jarvis, Salvador and Tom Hine, also do their fair share of work before the ball goes back to the Nean boys.
It has been no coincidence that the Lions’ return to form came the same season Matt Nean returned, the Lions basing their game around the electric halfback.
Brother Sean has found a spot at fullback and has been one of the most consistently dangerous players, always finding the line.
“Sean has been a stand-out for a few seasons now,” Salvador said.
“He has got that unorthodox style with good pace and aggression.”