Norths gave a nod to the club’s past and a glimpse of its future as the Hostplus Cup champions opened their 2023 home season with a 30-24 loss to the Burleigh Bears.
The Devils marked their 90th anniversary season before the match by unveiling their Champions Wall at Bishop Park acknowledging all 15 men’s first grade premiership teams since 1933.
Captain Jack Ahearn joined Devils greats from the 1950s and 1960s premiership years for a ceremony before the match.
Ahearn and six of his teammates from last night are listed on that wall from the past two premiership years but this Devils team is now focused on the 2023 season.
There were new elements last night: Dave Elliott in his first match as Devils coach; debutants Kyle Coghill, Sam Elliott, James Johnson and Jock Madden (pictured); and a return of Bryce Donovan and Jon Reuben from previous seasons.
But this campaign opened with a familiar tale for Norths – the Devils have lost their last five regular-season matches against the Bears. Norths have beaten Burleigh in the last two finals series.
Burleigh shot clear 30-12 early in the second half, leaving the Devils to plot another comeback.
They came close – Ahearn and his great mate Reuben combined for a try that showcased the footy that has underpinned the Devils’ modern success.
From a scrum close to the Bears’ line, Donovan fed Ahearn who dummied and kicked on the first tackle for a flying Reuben, grasping the ball from the air and racing around to score near the posts.
That pushed the Devils within six points of a tiring Bears who were good enough to repel the final rushes of the home team which tried to snatch a draw when Connor Broadhurst led a raid down the left side.
“Burleigh are always a tough team to beat and they were determined last night,” Devils coach Elliott said.
“We made some mistakes which made it tough at times but the players fought hard and played right until the end of the game.
“We’ll improve from this game. There are combinations that are developing and we know that we’ll be better in the weeks ahead.”
There were plenty of bright moments for the Devils, who played without the energy from ill premiership forward Liam Horne last night.
Broncos-contracted half Madden set up an important try in the 65th minute when he kicked, regathered and then passed for Tony Tumusa to score in the corner.
Kierran Moseley drove a forward pack that included premiership squad players Viko Puliuvea, Jayden Stephens, Moses Noovao-McGreal and Sam Lavea while Alo Vaipulu played his second match for the club.
Broncos-contracted prop Xavier Willison was a welcome face at the Bishop Park, returning for the first time since he injured a shoulder late in the Devils’ premiership drive last year.
Fellow Broncos forward Brendan Piakura again scored for the Devils, taking a short pass from Madden and barging his way over in the 35th minute.
Ahearn scored the Devils’ first try of 2023 when his swerving 20-metre run ended with a dive across the wet surface to the cheers of the hill.
The Bears had skipped to a 16-0 lead before Ahearn’s try.
The Devils are at home next Sunday for the rematch with 2022 grand finalists Redcliffe.
BURLEIGH BEARS 30 (Creedence Toia, Tom Steadman, Sami Sauiluma, Tony Francis, Sam Coster tries, Steadman 5 goals) bt NORTHS DEVILS 24 (Jack Ahearn, Brendan Piakura, Tony Tumusa, Jon Reuben tries, Connor Broadhurst 4 goals) at Bishop Park.
Photo by Alan Drinnen