TPA’s NRL Grand Final Primer

It’s an event eagerly anticipated by just about every Australian.

A time to be entertained, take a load off and most importantly, not work.

Yes, this weekend marks the October long weekend. And of course, somewhere in the middle of that, the NRL Grand Final will be played.

While I would much prefer to plan drinking and social activities over the long weekend, as a predominantly sports publication, the Public Apology has a duty to report on the Winfield Cup Telstra Premiership.

So, below is a primer on the upcoming game, distilled neatly into four key Talking Points that will determine whether it will be glory (glory) for Souths, or if the (under)Dogs can(terbury-Bankstown) sneak away with it.

MIND GAMES

The mind is a concept not usually associated with rugby league, and with good reason. But mind games, or the psychological warfare between the two sides, matter when it comes to Grand Finals.

A game often described as mindless.
A typical meeting of the minds.

The Grannie isn’t just a regular game, It’s the only game. And the whole hoopla that goes with it – Grand Final breakfasts, media appearances, fans’ expectations and the like, combine to pile a whole heap of pressure on the players involved.  The team that manages this menagerie of distractions best will most likely walk away with the silverware.

Whether by design or luck, the Bulldogs have comprehensively smashed the Rabbitohs in the mind games department. Just glance at a newspaper this week and you would have been hit by a slew of stories about South Sydney completed unrelated to football. These include separate headlines on: whether self-exiled club icon George Piggins would attend the match; whether suspended hooker Isaac Luke would be able to hold the trophy if his team won; James Packer and everyone else’s feelings about Souths winning their first Premiership in a million years; Russell Crowe wearing a South jacket while buying a takeaway coffee, various puff pieces on the Burgess boys, to name a few.

Souths clearly aren’t focused on the game. They are treating it like they have already won. To paraphrase something I once heard, complacency begets failure.

In contrast, the Bulldogs have been notably absent from the media hype around the Grand Final. Most likely because they are focusing on football, which is important for, you know, a football match.

ADVANTAGE: Bulldogs

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THE PLAYERS

There are some interesting match-ups going into this game. Burgess vs Graham. Another Burgess vs Sam Kasiano. Reynolds vs Reynolds. Two back-up hookers going at it.

I think Souths have the edge here as they have more burly Englishmen than the Bulldogs, by virtue of their coterie of Burgesses (Burgii?).

What happened to the fourth one?
What happened to the fourth one?

If you want to read more about these match-ups and who has the edge in a footballing sense, I would suggest buying a newspaper.

ADVANTAGE: the mainstream media (and Souths)

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THE FANS

South Sydney and Canterbury-Bankstown both have vociferous, colourful fan bases.

Souths are the club with traditional working class roots and a proud Indigenous heritage, and the fans embrace this reputation.

Canterbury, on the other hand, has in recent years become associated with a predominantly Lebanese demographic and, until recently appointing itself as the NRL’s family club, had well-publicised issues with crowd violence.

Doggies brah!
Doggies brah!

Both of these stereotypes will be out in full-force during Sunday’s decider, nowhere more evidenced than in the politically incorrect gibes directed by the fans towards their opponents.

The language will be colourful, occasionally ugly and no doubt racist. Let’s just hope there are no riots.

ADVANTAGE: Souths by a missing tooth.

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THE KICK-OFF TIME

This year the Grand Final kicks off at 7.15pm, although I imagine once delays associated with the pre-game entertainment, national anthem and Phil Gould doing his walk on the field/talk to camera piece, this will be more like 8pm.

This, in itself, is a shame. Traditionally the ARL Grand Final was held in the afternoon, something which was appreciated by most fans because it allowed you to make a day of it. You could have a BBQ with your friends and family, then retire to the living room to watch the game. Now with the decider finishing at 9pm, it excludes many young kids from attending the game, and as everybody knows, the children are our future.

But in a story too common to rugby league, the NRL ignored its fans in pursuit of the TV dollar and shifted to an evening game sometime in the early 2000s. This sucked, and following a groundswell of public opposition, they struck a compromise: the game would start in the afternoon and finish in darkness.

While this was an improvement from the game being played completely under lights, it was kind of weird. Like showering in your undies, it is neither an effective way of cleaning yourself and doing the laundry. And it feels weird.

A poor choice
A poor choice.

Somewhat unwisely (but characteristically), the NRL had abandoned this and returned to the evening game, thus taking the code down another step on the slippery step towards irrelevance. In contrast, the AFL has kept with tradition and maintained the post-lunch bounce.

ADVANTAGE: anyone but the fans.

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PREDICTION

Souths lose in Golden Point extra time, depriving  them of the fairytale ending and reinforcing their reputation as chokers. Russell Crowe cries regardless.

By Ben Shine

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