There’s just a touch over 48 hours until that other grand final this weekend, the one that comes just a day after the Sydney Swans and the Hawthorn Hawks take to the MCG to battle for AFL honours. The National Rugby League final promises to be an intensely physical encounter between two teams that reached the absolute pinnacle in 2012. The teams finished 1st and 2nd in the minor premiership with the Canterbury Bulldogs taking the honours in the regular season over a Melbourne Storm outfit that have been consistent performers over a number of seasons.
But of course season-winning exploits mean little when it gets to the big one. Generally speaking, the two teams that make the last match of the season are closer on paper and of course in with a 50% shot, theoretically. It’s also the case that, when both teams finished the regular season first and second, they are of course, automatically said to be nearer each other in their chances for glory than not.
Different games and their different team match-ups bring a unique complexion to each game where different players and player combinations are required to excel in order to clock-up a win. In this particular game, it’ll no doubt be a battle of the hookers and fullbacks with some wrestling manoeuvres likely to also play a significant part in the game as has been the norm for a few seasons in the rugby league.
The game on Sunday should pit the experienced and widely regarded world’s best fullback, Billy Slater for the Melbourne Storm up against the barnstorming and youthful up-and-comer Ben Barba for the Bulldogs. This should eventuate despite Billy Slater coming down with a cold, with the team certain he will play.
This is probably a closer match-up than most would admit, with Barba not exactly streets behind Slater in the race to be the best fullback in the world. Indeed Barba this year has been judged the best fullback in the NRL, effectively claiming the world mantle.
Both Ben Barba and Billy Slater are capable of swiftly moving up the field and breaking tackles. Both are known for their ability to easily streak past weary and unaware players, steaming away to score tries having run the length of the field. These plays alone have the ability to make all the difference on Sunday if playing conditions see the two teams competing on a dry playing field, no rain in sight.
The key to defusing the explosive tendencies of the two number ones will be with the kicking game of both sides. Both are usually strong under the high ball as they need to be, but a vulnerability exists there, especially in the case of Billy Slater who erred under pressure in the Origin series. The pack must be ready to chase after kicks targeting these players with gusto. The probability that one or two might be dropped increases with every opportunity taken.
Sending down a number of high kicks can also work for good defensive field position and can be used in attack for just as much efficacy, as long as the usage of such plays does not become predictable throughout the 80 minutes of the game.
The second key position will be the two hookers, Cameron Smith for Melbourne and Michael Ennis for Canterbury. One of the key players on the field, it will be Smith and Ennis, both class acts, as much as it pains to say about the on-field exploits of the latter, who will be there to get the ball into a good position in attack.
Another high tension element of the battle of the hookers will be the niggle. There is no love lost between Cameron Smith and Michael Ennis. The latter is more than capable of niggling opponents and chooses to do this a little more than most players in the competition. Cameron Smith will usually let his actions do the talking and the key will be him keeping his composure and perhaps forcing a penalty or two from an Ennis indiscretion.
Of course, the halves too, as they always have in rugby league will also be crucial, but in a game where Cronk is streets ahead of his opposing half, that equation doesn’t particularly change things and won’t signal a key two person contest within the broader game.
The final ingredient in the mix that is the Canterbury Bulldogs versus Melbourne Storm grand final will be the use of legal and perhaps sneaky illegal wrestling techniques. Both teams are professional at this with the Storm having pioneered the use of the so-called “chicken wing” tackle.
All NRL sides use wrestling moves, that is true. That is required in order to keep up with the competition. Such moves also act to slow the game down as well as causing a bit of pain. The referees will be on the lookout for the illegal chicken wing tackle, but most other moves are fair game and will be used more and more in the event of a very close contest on Sunday night.
The head says Melbourne will win, they’re big game players and have been there (the grand final) so many times in this decade, though Canterbury have been there more over the last 20 years. The difference is that the Storm have not been around that long. The Storm too, have more big game players than their opponents and this could also prove crucial to the end result. The heart on the other hand? Well, it doesn’t care.
I must confess, I’m not much of a soccer fan, okay purists yes I mean football. I find it, for the most part a dull and boring sport where it can take an inordinate amount of time to inch the ball into even the same postcode as the goal, at which point in time many more shots miss or are saved by the “goalie” or goalkeeper, with, I concede a high degree of athleticism from time to time.That said, I am a sport lover and intent every weekend and when sport provides me an opportunity, during the week to watch as much sport as I possibly can that falls within the realms of my sporting tastes.
This weekend, the A-League football season reaches the point where all clubs in the competition want to be when they set out at the beginning of the season, hoping to win as many matches as possible to put themselves in the best position to get themselves into the grand final of their competition. The two teams that found themselves in a good enough position at the end of the regular season and won all required finals matches, a feat in itself, Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory will take to the field on Sunday, feet at the ready to run and kick themselves to the point of being able to hoist aloft the league trophy after 90 minutes.
I’m from Brisbane and even though I don’t particularly enjoy football as a sport, I will at least be listening as they try to make it two pieces of silverware in a row, just days after another Asian Champions League loss, thankfully at home, so overseas travel didn’t knock the bejesus out of them, even if the loss did have that effect. I will be cheering while listening to it on the radio, it’s not something I would go out and watch at a pub, or the ground, I would prefer to be able to potter around a do other things while keeping an ear on the unfolding events.
Being not that keen on the sport of football, I would consider myself a sometimes Roar supporter. One of those people you hear that will support their team when they are up, but happily bash them when they are down.
The Brisbane Roar started the season extraordinarily well and I thought that they would dominate throughout and back-to-back trophies were a very distinct possibility given the start. But then, from round 9 of the competition, the team began to hit that wall that a team which has performed record-breaking feats will inevitably encounter at some point.
The team lost the next 5 games in a row and looked as if exhaustion had caught up with them. It was at that point that I found myself caring less and less about my parochial support for the local team in a sport I could easily avoid. I stopped caring so much about the season and the end result, it wasn’t going to involve the Brisbane team in any capacity other than them watching at the ground or on television as far as I was concerned.
Then something extraordinary happened. All of a sudden I started hearing of wins and the regular draws that are experienced all too often in the round ball game, though it took me a few wins to actually realise that this was occurring and my interest was piqued.
My local team could even challenge for the top spot in the competition, though they were to finish 2nd on the ladder behind the Central Coast Mariners, their very worthy and challenging opponent in last year’s championship showdown. Fortunes were switched when the Roar ended up beating the Central Coast Mariners to progress to the biggest day of the 2011-12 season.
I will be paying attention to see if the local boys can do it for Brisbane again after what sounded like an enthralling contest at the end of last season. A game that not even I as a bit of a knocker of the sport can say was anything other than an unbelievable contest between two teams with nothing between them, save for the undying determination and patience of the Roar outfit which was able to pounce twice within the last 10 minutes.
C’arn Brisbane Roar! Keep up that winning.