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Bears icon has players primed for final

North Sydney Bears captain Zach Dockar-Clay says the players are responding well to coach Jason Taylor’s “leave nothing out there” style of preparation for Sunday’s Grand Final in The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup.

Taylor retired as a player 22 years ago but is still seventh in the all-time list of points scorers in first grade with 47 tries and 942 goals from 276 matches.

As a head coach he has 140 NRL games and 116 in NSW Cup. In his fifth year as Bears coach he is readying his players to take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs at CommBank Stadium in the decider.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Dockar-Clay told

“For someone like myself as captain, ‘JT’ has a lot of impact on me but all the team will feel that.

“Having someone like him who’s played first grade, coached first grade, won a premiership with the Roosters (2013) as an assistant NRL coach, he understands the whole concept of finals.

“Yes, he is in intense but in a good way. He keeps us boys on our toes.

“And that’s what you need when you pull a bunch of footy guys together from all different backgrounds, part-time, full-time … JT is massive for us going into a Grand Final.”

North Sydney's Zach Dockar-Clay. Photo: Gregg Porteous
North Sydney's Zach Dockar-Clay. Photo: Gregg Porteous

Three Bears return from the Roosters NRL side that lost a Semi-final (18-13) to Melbourne Storm a week ago - forwards Fletcher Baker, Terrell May and winger Junior Pauga.

May made 45 tackles, missed none, and had four offloads. Pauga had a line break and five tackle-busts against the Storm but in NSW Cup this year he’s scored 21 tries in 17 games.

“What they can do individually is one thing but as a group it draws us together with a bit more confidence,” Dockar-Clay said.

“Terrell played 60 minutes against Storm and the commentators were raving about him. So, to have him come back and be our leader in the middle is unreal.

“He’ll be up against guys like Shaq Mitchell, Tallis Duncan and Yileen Gordon who have plenty of first grade experience. ‘T-May’ and Fletcher Baker are the types we can draw strength from.”

The Rabbitohs have six players in their midst with NRL experience this year – captain and goal-kicking halfback Dean Hawkins is one of them.

With conversions or penalties so often deciding finals games, he relishes that pressure.

“The cliché is you try to block out the noise, but the thing for me is that because I practised so much when I was younger it just becomes second nature,” Hawkins said.

“I know that if I nail my process the ball is going over. I’ve done the work; done the practice; just have to execute.

South Sydney's Dean Hawkins. Photo: Gregg Porteous
South Sydney's Dean Hawkins. Photo: Gregg Porteous

“My love of footy meant when I was little I just loved going to the park by myself and kicking – goal-kicking, general play kicking – that’s where it all started from.

“Everyone has their own technique. That’s on you to nail it down and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Hawkins has landed 58 goals in 21 games. His record in the finals is 100 per cent.

He kicked all four goals in the 26-12 Qualifying final win over the Warriors and then had a perfect record again after landing all five in the 30-24 Major Semi-final win over the Bears.

Now he’s about to torment the Bears again.

The Major Semi-final win for South Sydney meant a week off while the Bears battled the Warriors in the Preliminary Final.

“The freshen-up definitely helped us with all the niggles you get in a long season; everyone is buzzing to go,” Hawkins said.

“It will be a big defensive game because both teams are so good in attack.”

Both the Bears (130) and the Rabbitohs (115) were in the NSW Cup top-five for tries scored in 2023 – North Sydney leading the field.

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New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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