Burleigh Bears veteran Sam Coster has been playing rugby league for a long time but, in 2023, he has never been happier.
As the star lock prepares for this Sunday’s grand final clash against the Brisbane Tigers at Kayo Stadium, he has paid tribute to his Burleigh teammates and coaching staff, and the culture that has been created at the club this season.
Coster has been with Burleigh since 2017 and was part of the line-up for the Bears’ last premiership victory in 2019, starting in the No.13 jersey.
That grand final victory is, of course, one of the highlights of his rugby league career.
But, if the Bears manage to pull off a win on Sunday, he believes that would top the 2019 premiership just because of the impact this year’s squad has had on him.
“The 2019 team was sort of more senior guys but this year we have a good mix of some youth that have come through as well as the older boys,” Coster said.
“The younger guys help keep the older boys relaxed and have a bit of fun and not take things too seriously. It helps a lot.
“While 2019 is definitely up there and it was a pretty special year hopefully we can get the job done this weekend and it would top that.
“I’m 30 now and I’m loving playing as much as I ever have. The young guys talk about how much us older boys help them but really, they help us too.
“They bring a new sort of outlook to our footy and they help you fall in love with the game all over again.”
Alongside Coster, the other veterans are captain and centre Sami Sauiluma, hooker Pat Politoni, second rower Hayden Schwass and five-eighth Tyrone Roberts, while 28-year-old playmaker Guy Hamilton has been at Cup level since 2016.
Coster said the young guns of the team that helped to bring the energy and enthusiasm included centre Kea Pere and Gold Coast Titans trio Keano Kini, Tony Francis and Vaka Sikahele.
“Vaka, he was a bit quiet at the start of the year but seeing him grow into being comfortable in his own skin and being comfortable around the group and bringing his own personality and energy to the team has been good to watch,” Coster said.
“We have Keano who is a 19-year-old kid and is fulltime but rolls back with us and has no ego, buys in and loves every minute of it and he’s been great to have.
“Then Kea, he is getting a little bit older but he’s been good. He started here as a young guy and it’s been really good to watch him grow as a player.
“Over the last 12 months he’s come along in leaps and bounds and become one of our better players this year. And we also have Tony Francis who has been unreal for us.”
With this boost in his love for the game, Coster is also playing some of his best football.
Dubbed Burleigh’s “Mr Reliable”, the 30-year-old regularly hits more than 100 run metres a game and is key to the Bears’ defence, with one of his 2023 highlights including a 58-tackle effort in Round 19 with just one miss.
Coster said the squad had played a part in this, but so had a number of factors in his life, on and off the field.
“It’s a mixture of a few things,” he said of his form.
“It’s definitely having some new guys come through but also my family life.
“I have my wife and two kids and it’s good and I’m happy there.
“Then ever since (head coach Luke Burt) has come to the club - even as an assistant coach the previous two years – he’s given me a new role and had faith in me to do more in the team than any other coach in the past has.
“Him coming on board in 2021 has helped me have a bigger role in the team. I get to touch the ball a lot more, not just be some sort of workhorse-type player.
“I get to get my hands on the ball, back myself, be confident and if I see something I can play it, not just fall into structure. Instilling that confidence has helped me a lot.”
Coster said the attitude at Burleigh HQ this week had been positive - energetic and no signs of tension or pressure as they prepared for the premiership decider.
The two teams are heading into the final off the back of some incredibly strong form, with both sides on five game winning streaks.
The Bears’ streak started in Round 20 after they had a team meeting regarding their morale, following a draw with the Northern Pride.
Since that meeting, they have not only won every game but have taken their football to another level.
Coster said this was a major moment that he believed changed the outcome of their season.
Match: Bears v Tigers
Grand Final -
Venue: Kayo Stadium, Redcliffe
“We did our review that week and Burty pretty much didn’t show any tactical stuff, any attack or D,” he said.
“It was all about our energy and how we would react to errors or positive things. The team morale was down and I’m not sure why. Maybe we just got lost in the middle of the season.
“But we kickstarted things again and made sure it was really enjoyable and we had each other’s backs which helped everyone back to their best footy.
“It was after we had a draw against Northern Pride and I think they scored in probably the last two or three minutes.
“If we ended up winning that game, we might not have addressed the issue and swept it under the rug. It was definitely important to address because otherwise we might have limped to the end of the season and not be playing our best footy at the right time of year.”
Now there is just one game left in Cup.
Coster said while the team were enjoying themselves, come 5.30pm Sunday, they would be ready and raring to go, focused on winning that premiership for the club.
He knows how much that trophy would mean to Burleigh, their tight-knit group and their coach.
“It would mean a lot,” he said.
“We’ve been working hard since November and this core group has been together a long time.
“We’ve had success in the past but it doesn’t mean much for now. It would mean a lot to win it with this group of players that we’ve put together this year, knowing we’ve worked hard for each other and built some special bonds.
“It would be nice to do it for Burty too. Even when he was assistant coach, he was one of the hardest working assistant coaches I’ve seen at Cup level so hopefully we can reward him.”
To snap up your seats to the 2023 Hostplus Cup and Hastings Deering Colts grand finals, click here.
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The Hostplus Cup grand final will be shown live on Fox League and Kayo Freebies from 5pm.
The game will also be live on SENQ radio from 4pm.