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This one’s for Bernie: Moree Boars chase their field of dreams

NUMBER 9, the legendary Bernie Briggs, is looking down – and he’s smiling broadly.

It’s that trademark smile that everyone remembers and loves, and there’s that quiet chuckle, too.

The Moree Boars are doing Briggs proud, and the A-grade team’s Lazarus-like resurgence this season has arrived at just the right time.

The unbeaten Boars are clear Group 19 competition leaders, and this renewed will-to-win comes at a time when huge celebrations are being planned to mark the historic club’s 100th year on the paddock.

It’s as if it was meant to be – and in a way, it is.

Briggs, regarded as one of Moree’s finest sportsmen, passed away in January last year after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Bernie Briggs (9) enjoying one of his proudest moments in sport as one of the key players in the 1973 University Shield win against Forbes.

But his memory lives on, and on Saturday Moree Boars will take on the Inverell Hawks at Boughton Oval in the Bernie Briggs Memorial Day Shield.

The Moree-Inverell clash was first played last year as a tribute to “9”, and the Boars go into Saturday’s game as white-hot favourites and defending title-holders.

Moree A-grade has won five from five this season, clocking up 234 points along the way.

They opened the season with a 60-22 whitewash over Tingha before delivering beatings to Moree Boomerangs (34-24), Glen Innes (40-14), Narwan (42-26) and Armidale (58-12) last weekend.

Coach Scott Girard says the players are ‘cogging’ as a team and the mixture of a few old heads and some new blood is producing the goods.

New players like William Beale, Ashley Jarrett, Clyde Hickling, Billy Lippi and Kerrod Sampson are melding well will old guard players Holt Cubis, John Lawton, Dion Dahlstrom, Jason Humphries, Stan Swan, Brent McDonald, Wayne Swan, Jade Kennedy, Joe Wade, Luke Hetherington, Dylan McGregor, Jake Sampson and Vincent Green Jr.

It’s a new-look Boars outfit – there’s a lot of the old and a bit of the new, and it’s a formula that’s working, Girard says.

“We’re going all right and I hope we can keep doing it. If we get through this game (on Saturday), then we’ll have been through the round undefeated,” Girard says proudly.

“There’s good camaraderie, and everyone is happy and cogging well.

“They all believe in each other. I’ve got them mingling together – they’re mates – and each win builds confidence and morale,” he said.

“We’ve got players that have been there for a few years that are coming of age and becoming good footballers.

“I knew that time would come and it happens with age and experience. There’s a lot of good talent around Moree and we’ve got a few boys down from Boggabilla as well.

William Beale makes a charge against Armidale last weekend. Moree went on to win 58-12 and remain unbeaten this season, winning five from five (Image: Deb Holland).

“They’re good players and are making our boys step up a cog, too; they all want to play good if they’ve got good players around them,” Girard said.

It has been nearly 20 years since the A-grade Moree Boars have figured in a grand-final.

But now the team is staring down the barrel of the very real possibility of being there at seasons-end.

“The confidence is there,” Girard said.

“The boys are looking at the big picture, and they want it – they’re hungry.

“Just as long as we don’t get too cocky and just go from win to win and week to week, and just keep going through, then we can be there on the day,” he said.

A-grade captain Stan Swan says the start to the 2018 season has been “incredible” for the Boars.

“It’s been the best start to the season for the Boars for many years,” Swan said.

“A lot of the boys worked on their fitness during the off-season and that has helped a lot, and there’s a real positive attitude within the club.

Bernie and Sally Briggs at a reunion in his honour in 2015 (Image Copyright Bill Poulos).

“We have a few new players (from Boggabilla) and they’ve really helped us out big-time this year, and they are playing really good footy for us,” he said.

“And Scott is doing a great job (as coach). We want to go out and play the footy he wants us to play.

“He’s a top bloke and we try to play good footy because he’s pretty hard-headed and we don’t want him going off at us at half-time,” Swan laughed.

Each win this season has been comprehensive and Swan says the run has reinvigorated much-needed interest in the local rugby league competition and, more importantly, the Moree Boars.

“There has been two or three tries difference against each team we’ve played – we’ve won fairly easily,” Swan said.

“And with the community knowing that we’re winning, drags more people through the gates at home games. That’s another reason we want to keep winning – it’s great for the club.”

Saturday’s match against the Inverell Hawks is not just another game of local rugby league, either.

Not by a longshot.

It is a special 80 minutes of football, dedicated to one of the greatest players to ever pull on a Moree Boars’ jersey.

Bernie Briggs, known by many simply as “9”, was for many years widely regarded as one of Moree’s living treasures.

He was just 58 when the fight with cancer was lost.

Back in the very early 1970s he was part of Moree High School’s undefeated under-16s squad and played with the 1973 University Shield grand-final winning team for Moree High School.

He played a pivotal role in the historic game against Forbes and also ran on with that year’s under-18s Group 5 grand-final winners.

Bernie Briggs makes a charge for the line.

In 1974 he was named the NSW combined high schools’ 15-years javelin champion – a talent he discovered by sheer accident – and was an all-rounder with the north-west area open cricket team.

Briggs played for the under-21s Northern NSW Emus cricket team that toured New Zealand and, between tours, won the 1973 State javelin championships.

He was also awarded two north-west area Blues in 1973: one for athletics and a special Blue for rugby league and cricket.

In 1973 he was named North-West Area Education Department’s Sports Boy of the Year and the following year was awarded North-West Schools’ Sports Association’s Sportsman of the Year, alongside Sportswoman of the Year, Nira Stove from Narrabri.

Remarkably, Briggs stockpiled all of these achievements and awards well before his 16th birthday.

Briggs played in seven rugby league grand-finals for The Big M, in juniors and as well as seniors when the club became the Moree Boars in the late 1970s.

He helped win six of those seven grand-finals.

In all, he played in 142 A-grade matches for Moree and was a long-standing life member of the club.

He collected the coveted Moree Champion A-Grade Best and Fairest Award in 1980 and again in 1984.

Girard says it’s a big ask to find a better bloke that Bernie Briggs – on or off the paddock.

“Saturday is a special day for Bernie and everyone is hyped about it – everyone is pumped,” Girard said.

“Bernie was an absolute legend. He wasn’t just a good footballer, he was a great person . . . he was a champion,” he said.

Words Copyright: Bill Poulos

Bernie Briggs Memorial Day

When: Saturday, May 12

Where: Boughton Oval

Moree Boars v Inverell Hawks

Gates open 1pm

Ladies League Tag kicks off at 2pm, followed by juniors, reserve-grade then A-grade.