Ladder position: 10th
Competition points: 24
Points scored: 410
Points conceded: 479
After a long season, perhaps none other of the bottom four teams will be hurting as much as North Sydney; the 10th-placed side were dramatically knocked out of contention by rivals Canterbury-Bankstown in Round 25 for the second consecutive year. The 10-6 loss, punctuated by a vital no-try ruling to the Bears, followed a 22-4 Elimination Final defeat resulting in an early finals exit last season. It is a bitter pill to swallow for a team that showed great promise throughout the early rounds.
All in all, the Bears will be disappointed that they have yet again been able to reach their potential. Since the Bulldogs kept them to a second place finish in 2012, the Bears have come ninth, ninth, eighth and 10th at the end of the regular season, which is certainly below their capabilities. When focusing on individuals, however, there are significant positives to draw from a team that came so close – and four major young signings bode well for their chances in 2017.
The season can be split into two halves for the Bears, who were competition heavyweights with seven wins from their first 12 starts. From there, however, they managed just two wins in their remaining 10 and while five of their losses were by 12 points or less, their consistency well and truly took a hit late in the year. The players will be particularly disappointed with their home record, having won just three of their 10 games at North Sydney Oval.
For the Bears, the question of their best game is a simple one – their Round 14 win over Mounties was an obvious highlight. Mounties had ground out several narrow victories in the previous 13 rounds, marginally losing just one game in Round 2, but this was the first week their opposition truly got the better of them. It was a rare moment when Mounties have looked vulnerable this season.
Tries to Sitiveni Moceidreke, Brad Deitz, Ed Murphy and Tulsa Saumamao set up the victory, which served as revenge for an 18-16 loss in Round 4. It set the Bears up with an impressive record from their 12 games, but it was all downhill from there and they managed to fall just short of a finals berth.
The Bears’ poorest performance came late in the season, in their Round 23 loss to the Cutters. At this late stage, Ben Gardiner’s men had everything to play for; they sat in seventh position but had the Roos, Bulldogs and Magpies hot on their heels for a finals position. The team responded in the poorest possible fashion and an eight-tries-to-one rout ensued, with only a Cameron Murray consolation try in the 77th minute saving them from their first score of nil in 2016.
While the Cutters proved their class in the game at North Sydney Oval, it goes down as one to forget for the Bears. They will hope to distance themselves from the performance next year.
As mentioned, this is an easy one for a team that were genuine contenders throughout the opening 14 rounds. The win over Mounties had the rest of the competition sit up and take notice, but they followed it up with a 14-6 loss to the Tigers in Round 15. In what was an even grind for the most part, the Bears could not get the two points and with a one-point loss to the Warriors in Auckland a week later, this may just have derailed North Sydney’s hopes enough to send them into a poor finish to the season.
Eli Levido, a young halfback who began to impress in the Rabbitohs’ Holden Cup side last year, took control of the Bears expertly in 2016. He guided the team around the field in their best and worst moments, with a regular rotation of halves partners, and maintained his composure at all times. Along with Brad Dietz, Tautalatasi Tasi and Jack Gosiewski, the Bears produced several NRL-standard players this season. Finally, Cody Walker – who was named Players’ Player and Best and Fairest for the Bears last year – successfully made the transition into first grade and could be considered South Sydney’s most consistent performer this year.
Destined for the NRL:
Brad Dietz is some chance of getting a first grade chance next season, while Levido could be first in line should injury strike at Redfern. Tautalatasi Tasi and Jack Gosiewski, who played in two and five games already in 2016, will hope for more regular spots in future and they have done everything right to earn their chance.
Most intriguing for the Bears will be the signing of four 20-year-olds from various clubs. Centres Robert Jennings and Braidon Burns, second-rower or centre Tyrell Fuimaono and halfback Connor Tracey have all been signed based on impressive junior form, with only Jennings previously getting a taste of the NRL. Faimaono was a star for the victorious NSW Under-20s this year and has also represented the Junior Kangaroos, while Tracey has played for Australian Schoolboys and Burns has lit up the Holden Cup this season. At least some of the quartet are certainties to play NRL this season, but in the meantime will be valuable additions to the Bears. Finally, having played some Intrust Super Premiership NSW this season, it is a matter of time until Cameron Murray matures into a first grader.
North Sydney are clearly a club that will benefit from solid recruiting, but consistency will need to improve if they are a chance of giving the competition a shake next season. Ben Gardiner will be working hard to improve the players’ attitude in defence as usual, but will also hoping the new crop of talent can improve their attack; North Sydney finished as the second-worst attacking team this year. Fans should expect a far better result in 2017.