Norths ramp up youth focus with experienced new coach
A NEW coach, focus on youth and hopes to rebuild a women's rugby league team.
Norths are gearing up for what club president Jason Brennan hopes is a more normal season following last year's COVID impacts.
But after the Tigers had a productive season making the Volunteers Cup grand final involving Toowoomba sides, the annual player poaching has started.
Norths have lost some key players already to Souths Tigers in the Toowoomba competition.
However, with former Toowoomba Clydedales premiership-winning coach Gary Lawrence on board, Brennan is keen to build on the club's positive progress in last year's restructured A-Grade competition.
"We got to blood a lot of young guys who probably wouldn't have played A-Grade in a normal year,'' Brennan said.
"For a young squad, they got a year of experience underneath them now.
"It was a pretty tough comp playing some weeks. There were some high quality sides we were playing against from Toowoomba and Ipswich.''
He said making the grand final was a "pretty big achievement'' for the Tigers.
Norths were the only team to beat eventual champions Goodna in the 10 round Volunteers Cup series.
He said the club's motto his year was to build on that, further developing the younger guys led by the Norths more experienced campaigners.
"Our colts numbers are fantastic this year,'' Brennan said.
"At training, we're getting really good numbers in the under 19s.
"I'm anticipating there will be a fair number of them having a go at A-Grade on and off through the year.''
Brennan welcomed former Warwick resident Lawrence to the club, a coach with widespread Toowoomba and Darling Downs competition successes and experience in northern centres.
Lawrence replaces highly regarded coach Mick Newton, who guided the Tigers to four grand finals since 2014, winning two.
The club president appreciated everything Newton did at Norths during his highly successful stints.
"Mick was fantastic,'' Brennan said.
"He won a comp in '14 and '15. He didn't coach in '16 and '17 and came back in '18 and we made the grand final in 2018.
"He didn't coach in '19 and then he came back in '20 and made the grand final (again).
"He had a great rapport with and respect from the players.''
Norths are planning to field Reserve Grade, Colts and Under-19 sides along with their A-Grade team in this year's Rugby League Ipswich competition starting after Easter.
Like everyone who endured last year's challenges, he wants to return to some normality in Ipswich's planned 14 round series.
"Hopefully they can get the teams and numbers and stuff like that so the comp can be strong again,'' he said.
Brennan was cautious about the inclusion of an Ipswich Jets team until he sees how the player situation pans out.
His concerns were a player drain from the local comp. However, he said early indications were positive that the Jets wanted to bring in outside footballers.
"I'll reserve my judgment until the end of the year but I don't mind the idea if it's done properly,'' Brennan said.
Brennan said Norths were also still hoping to field a women's side in the SEQ competition this year if they get enough interested players.
Newly-appointed A-Grade men's coach Lawrence works in Toowoomba.
He's been training with the Norths A-Grade squad on Tuesday and Thursday nights since mid January.
One of his main achievements was in 1996 coaching the Clydesdales to victory in the inaugural year of the Queensland Cup competition.
Lawrence was also South West Division director of coaching in 1992-1994 and was based in Sydney as executive officer of the Australian Rugby League Referee's Association in 1995.
After two years with the Clydesdales, he and wife Jo moved to Mackay where Gary coached Brothers to the semi-finals for two seasons.
The couple then moved to Moree to manage a motel for the Pippos Group before Gary ran the Lightning Ridge Bowling Club for 18 months.
Lawrence started his rugby league junior and senior grade careers at Glen Innes before joining the Royal Australian Air Force.