After 6 months of sex tapes, late night one-armed bandit sessions and questionable fashion choices at the Dally M Awards, the last NRL Grand Final of the decade is finally here, and amazingly, in the past couple of days, I think we’ve seen a bigger surprise than the Canberra Raiders finally appearing in a Grand Final.
Wendell Sailor performed on The Masked Singer.
Sydney Roosters vs Canberra Raiders @ ANZ Stadium, 7:30pm AEDT
The Roosters were a very high chance of making it back to another Grand Final with the roster they’ve got, and on the flip side, we’re back to the traditional shock Grand Finalist in the form of this Raiders team, which means we’ve got one final thrilling edition of the “Todd Carney/Joey Leilua/Sia Soliola/Ricky Stuart Coached Us” Cup.
Alternatively, it’s a clash for the fictional ‘Mullins Cup’, a trophy created by me, named after the superb father/son wing duo Bill and Brett Mullins, who quite topically, is the only player to win a Premiership for the Raiders and Roosters.
On that note, time to look at the combatants.
Cock a doodle doo, Uncle Nick and the boys are back for another Grand Final, their 8th since 2000, and they have a straight shot at doing what no team has been able to do in the unified competition since the Broncos in 1993, and that’s win Back to Back premierships.
Still, there were times where it looked like they wouldn’t get there, racking up more handling errors and sitting 14th in completion percentage, and especially with a list of injuries to key players mid-year, most notably Luke Keary’s struggle with a concussion, which led to a few weird losses against random middling teams like the Panthers and Cowboys.
Short of Jake Friend, everyone is fit and firing, and unsurprisingly, the class has shone through since July.
Newly crowned Dally M Medalist James Tedesco has earned just about every major player award, and will probably win the Golden Boot as well, Boyd Cordner led the Blues to another State of Origin title, Latrell Mitchell outscored 11 teams on the SCG to take the Point Scorers title, Daniel Tupou had a career year, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves had as many visits to the judiciary as he played games, Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary were dominant when they played, and then there was the assorted bench weirdos like Nat the Bondi Butcher and Mitch Aubusson, whose contract actually expired 5 years ago, but for some reason, Robbo keeps giving him a game, because he bleeds Red…. and White… and Blue.
Aside from that, there was also the recruits, who were most likely picked up on the cheap in public, followed by Uncle Nick’s ‘special gifts’.
Angus Crichton did the unthinkable and crossed the border from Redfern to Bondi in pursuit of a premiership, and after a slow start, has now come very good, and Blake Ferguson was replaced with Brett Morris, which would’ve meant something 5 years ago, but the man mistaken for Josh Morris has come very productive and passed 150 First Grade tries, which was especially remarkable, after he nearly became a Lieutenant Dan impersonator thanks to the Brookvale turf.
As for Sunday, JWH is straight back into the team, meaning that 15 out of 21 players in the squad played in last year’s Grand Final, and at this stage, Coach Robbo will ride the hot hand of Dan Verrells and resist the urge of Satan to start Jake Friend at Hooker, and Cooper Cronk is all set to go for his 9th Grand Final, in this, his 372nd and last game.
In fact, Jake Friend might not play at all- Not that they’ve needed him lately.
The Tricolours are the deserving favourites, but of course, they were favourites back in 2003 going for back to back against the Panthers, only for Scott Sattler to run down their dreams and tackle them over the sideline.
25 years on from their last premiership, and 30 years since fate delivered them that maiden Premiership win in 1989, the magic has returned to Our Nation’s Capital, as Raiders fans gorge themselves on possibly diseased green sausages, and now, Kingsley’s Chicken has gotten on board, poisoning their fried chicken in support of the Green Machine.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Greenland jumped on board in support by Sunday.
After decades of having their seasons end with some form of pulling a Canberra Faders gag for us all to enjoy, Sticky Ricky, Dandy Don Furner and the rest of the weirdos without nicknames at the Raiders did what the early settlers did to help grow this flailing country, and imported criminals from England.
John Bateman and Ryan Sutton joined fellow resident Poms in Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead, and within a month, Bateman’s impact was so profound, that he’d had a quaint seaside town on the South Coast named after him.
As the newly crowned Dally M Second Rower of the Year, I assume Gladys will be making this name change official… assuming her own cabinet doesn’t try knifing her again.
Outside of the Englishmen, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad had been languishing at the Warriors, having encountered the slight problem of competing with a Dally M winner in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for the fullback position, so he hopped on a plane, willingly entered Canberra, and showed he was a viable full-back, leading the league in kick return metres.
Then there’s the heart and soul of the team- Captain Jarrod Croker finally appears in a Grand Final after 256 games, and the lead drummer of the post-match Viking Clap Sia Soliola, who 14 years ago, made his debut for a Roosters team coached by Ricky Stuart, and after a stint in England, now plays his 200th NRL game… most of which have come with his funky afro.
Jack Wighton gave up a fledgling criminal career to focus on his NRL career, and capped it off with a New South Wales debut, as he formed a solid halves pairing with the Young Turk Aidan Sezer, although the act which has come to define the fairytale rise of the Green Machine is their mastery and exploitation of the relaxed one on one strip rules, with the Raiders leading the league with 28 strips, with 14 of them from Hodgson, and the other 14 from the girls at the Lollipop Lounge.
Unfortunately, Hodgson has come down with a bad case of the shits this week, forcing him into quarantine (A spot since vacated for Bateman), so the team have been forced to Photoshop his head into the top left of the Grand Final team photo.
Also present is the classic “Put your hand on your mate’s leg in the team photo”, which will always be funny.
Despite the threat of the plague affecting the team, the Raiders haven’t made a change from the lineup that defeated Souths, leaving Joey Leilua as the only player in lime green with Grand Final experience, having played as an 18-year-old for the Roosters back when they lost to the Dragons in 2010.
Make no mistake, the Green Machine and that giant arse horn (To be manned by Mal ‘Smell Me Finger’ Meninga) will be marching up the highway from now until Sunday, and when you’re up against a club like Easts, it’s easy to be the sentimental fan favourite, and the Raiders have outlined some random reasons why ‘neutrals’ should be jumping aboard the bandwagon, which could’ve been whittled down to point number 10.
It’s the Roosters.
The self-belief of the Green Machine versus the clinical, star studded champion team that is the Chooks means we should have an exciting contest, and of course, the Chooks won both their meetings this year, and nuffies go on about how both those games were decided by under a converted try (30-24 in Round 9 and 22-18 in Round 21), but I seem to remember that Magic Round game in Brisbane being a romp, until the Roosters lost just about everyone in the 2nd Half, leading to the score being whittled down from 30-6 to the final 30-24 score.
Ricky Stuart will break the record for the longest gap between coaching in a Grand Final, having last appeared in the 2004 Grand Final when the Roosters lost 16-13 to Canterbury, and in his last game, Cooper Cronk can potentially become the first player to complete a hat-trick of premierships since the likes of Steve Edge, Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny, Mick Cronin, Ray Price and Eric Grothe played in the Eels’ 1981-83 premierships.
As for ‘Mr Top 500 On FootyTips NRL Tipping’ over here, I’m taking the Roosters, because I’m a grumpy arse who wants to see as much disappointment and chaos on Sunday evening.
As for the Clive Churchill… I’ll take Old Man Cronk in his farewell.
As for the NRLW decider…. I’ll go for the Broncos by default