Slowly clawing back.
Once again the league deemed that Norths were only good enough to play in Reserves in 1997 and as we did in ’89, we romped away with the flag. Sully was the Coach of a team that included 1 st grade B&F players such as Jeff & Noel Burton, Osadczuk & Phillips.
Others who had a good season that year were Pigeon, Guy Cooper, Steve Ayrton and Tangles. After being in the top 2 all year, we belted Port Kembla in the major semi at Albatross before repeating the dose a fortnight later in the Grand Final at Shellharbour. Jeff Burton was awarded the Best & Fairest thus emulating Chook (1987/88) who also won 1st /Reserve Grade B&F in successive years. Off the field were were still struggling financially, Bellambi Hotel was our only significant sponsor and the contribution from them was hardly growing.
Jeff took on the role of Captain-Coach in 1998 and did a fine job as the team had to contend with the step up to 1 st Grade again. In a similar scenario to ’95, the efforts of a good Coach were thwarted by a lack of depth. The Club performed very well at home but was found just short of the standard required when key players couldn’t make it to the Southern games. Noel Burton joined his 2 brothers as dual B&F winners when he snared the ’98 1 st Grade award.
1999 was a watershed year for the Tigers. Firstly, we had an ex Sydney Swan (Arthur Chilcott) as Captain-Coach. Arthur is an extraordinary athlete who once not only scored 5 goals in 1 st Grade against Collingwood at Victoria Park but switched to Rugby League and was on the fringe of 1 st grade selection for Balmain Tigers in the NRL ! Although suffering from a nagging back injury for most of the ’99 season, he was still good enough to kick 16 goals in one match and helped us win many others including an historic first ever win over Bomaderry by a lazy 12 goals.
Also significant in ’99 was the emergence of Josh McLarnen who is quite possibly the fittest player ever to play for Norths. Josh’s sheer determination and persistence netted him 3 successive 1 st Grade Best & Fairest awards from 1999-2001. Despite the heriocs from these 2 players and a host of other contributors we fell frustratingly short of finals action.
Perhaps the most important long-term development of ’99 was the re-introduction of Junior footy in the area. Norths hit the ground running with Auskickers as well as teams in U/10’S and U/12’S. Not only have the Juniors brought more people to the Club and provided possible Senior players in the future, some of our elder statesmen (e.g. Bill Parsons, Chook) have their own kids playing each week. Billy Jnr has already won Best & Fairest in the League whilst Dane Sulilich (original ’99 Junior) and Wally Archibald have represented NSW. Norths Junior Club were officially voted the best administered Club in the League in both 1999 and 2000.
Many new players arrived from 1998-2000, such as Matt Simpson, Matt Warth, Peter Mant, Grant Plecas, Brendan Matters – some of them a little inexperienced but who were learning quickly under Coach (& Tiger legend) Greg Burke . As stated, Josh was the Champion player in 2000.
There was still only 1st Grade at this point and again we were touched out of the finals, but we were setting our sights high again.