Well folks this is it! The big one, the big dance, after seven months of continuous football, 16 teams have been whittled down to just two. The best two teams in the 2019 NRL Telstra Premiership.
The Sydney Roosters take on the Canberra Raiders on Sunday where at the end of 80 minutes, or perhaps a few more, one team will be crowned premiers.
Interestingly both teams enter the game with very different build ups to the big day.
The Roosters have been in ‘serious mode’ all week, attending all the fan and media events they’re obligated to but apart from that, they’ve been all business in their quest to become the first team since Brisbane in 1992-93 to win back-to-back premierships.
The Raiders on the other hand have been the complete opposite in their preparation. Coach Ricky Stuart has urged his team to embrace the madness that is Grand Final week. He’s told them to let down their hair and enjoy the occasion. Green machine fans were even encouraged to line the streets of the nation’s capital and cheer the boys on as they boarded the bus and made their way to Sydney.
There’s no doubt that the Roosters possess one of the most balanced and talented teams in the competition. A world-class fullback in James Tedesco, a dangerous centre in Latrell Mitchell and an imposing set of halves in Luke Keary and Cooper Cronk. To top it all off they even possess an extremely mobile and aggressive forward pack.
On paper the Raiders aren’t too far behind, fullback – check, centre – check, halves – check but it’s in the forwards where Canberra seem to hold a slight edge.
The ability to execute one-on-one steals, while incredibly annoying to watch, (unless you’re a Raiders supporter that is), has swung the pendulum the Green Machine’s way many times during the season but it’s in the two Englishmen where Canberra have a clear advantage. Both Josh Hodgson and John Bateman are crafty, tough and they never give up on a play. With prop Josh Papalii, the Raiders have the most inform forward in the game. He is an absolute wrecking ball with the ability to knock players down like ten-pins.
So where is this game going to be won? Well I’m not going to over analyse this question because you’ve probably already read it all somewhere else. Let’s just say, it will be the team that doesn’t panic, who sticks to their game plan, completes their sets and executes everything close to perfection who will come out on top.
The above sentence is so full of clichés even I had a laugh….
With the two very different approaches the sides have taken in the lead up to this match, one memory still lingers in my mind. It’s of the 2003 Grand Final between the Roosters and Panthers. An hour before the match two shots from the dressing room cameras were beamed onto the big screen and to millions of TV’s at home Australia wide.
One showed a very focussed Chooks camp, players going about their pre-game preparations very seriously. Then the vision switched to the Panthers dressing room where five-eighth Preston Campbell was unpacking his kit bag. Presto must of heard the electronic camera whirl around and point at him. He looked up, smiled and did a big wave to the audience.
He seemed so relaxed and so clam, just enjoying the moment.
The Panthers went on to win the Grand Final 18-6.
Will history repeat itself on this occasion?
We’re about to find out.
And that’s Fulltime: Well folks this is my last regular column for 2019. I’ve been covering rugby league, on and off since 1992 mostly at the Western Weekender and after a long hiatus it was great to be back and writing for you all again.
Some of you have enjoyed my previews and rumours of the week, others haven’t and you’ve let me know in no uncertain terms but I’d have to say the overwhelming support has been nothing but positive.
Thanks also to Troy Dodds the Editor of the Western Weekender for taking a punt and giving me a wonderful platform to write my musings.
With a bit of luck, I hope to see you all again in 2020. See you at the game.
Peter Lang is an experienced writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.