Tigers back in premiership hunt
THE troops have returned home to strengthen Norths ahead of the Tigers' A Grade debut on March 18.
After back-to-back rugby league premierships in 2014 and 2015, Norths were hit hard with injuries and missed out on finals' football for the first time in almost a decade.
Keen to put last season behind them, Norths coach Anthony O'Brien said his players were fit and ready to fire for the Rugby League Ipswich season opener.
"Keen to be back and looking forward to a better year,” O'Brien said.
"It's been a bit slow at times with guys like Josh Roberts still out playing baseball and cricket.
"That's just what you've got to deal with and you know with guys like Roberts he'll turn up ready to go.”
With regular captain Roberts still tied up with the Ipswich Musketeers, Norths will look to the returning Chris Scanlan as the side's fill-in captain.
The club's player of the year in 2014, Scanlan and former teammate Chris Porter have pledged to return for the Tigers this year.
"Having Scanlan and Porter back is a big plus,” O'Brien said. "That's a lot of experience back there.
"Like a lot of clubs, there are still a couple of other guys we are hoping to have confirm if they are coming to us this season.”
After injuries dogged the Tigers season last year, O'Brien is looking to avoid the same unfortunate luck.
"You can't spend too much time worrying about injuries but hopefully we have rid ourselves of that black cap,” he said. "We won't be running any ladders or anything like that but the guys that have been here since November are all looking fit.
"We had a good training session on the coast the other week. It was a good bonding experience.”
The opportunity to escape Ipswich for the weekend and focus on the season ahead was part of O'Brien's pre-season plan.
"You could just see it in the guys' faces,” he said.
"Just the freshness of being somewhere different.
"They were still running hard and did a big session on the beach but it was enjoyable. If we get the byes this season we might try and do that throughout this year as well.
"It's good to be able to rely on that bye so that guys can plan around it. I see it as a positive because if guys have things to do they can do that during those weeks.”
With the inclusion of the Eastern Cobras in this year's competition, the new 21-round draw will now feature byes for each of the seven teams.
Norths' first bye will be in round four.
O'Brien hopes to use the extra breaks to spend more time on bonding sessions away.
Led by former Norths Reserve Grade player Wade Seden, the Cobras will bring an unknown element to the 2017 season.
"I think it's great for the competition,” O'Brien said. "They've had procedures in place to allow the Cobras to build up and now it's their chance to step up.
"Hopefully the Valleys Dragons can do the same and we'll have eight teams in the competition.
"As long as we're all competitive that's going to be good.”
Norths' season begins on Saturday week when they meet Swifts Bluebirds in the Rugby League Ipswich season launch at North Ipswich Reserve.