Time to look ahead to Sunday's decider! Rob Crosby has a full look at both teams and what to expect ...
28 hours ago
I should have been excited at this time of year. I should have had a team in the big games during September. Instead I've been disappointed and the year, for my team, has been a ‘should've been' year.
Every fan knows what it's like, you start the year with hope and intention. The new season unfolds before us like a bright and fresh new child's day, full of potential and promise. Some of us realise this promise and others don't. Even Souths fans know this feeling, perhaps it's even more bitter for them after a couple of years exile. And look at Penrith, bottom of the table to Minor Premiers in one season.
We had it all at the start. Great attacking forwards, improved defence. Fast and elusive backs. One of the best playmakers in the competition and a hot new halfback. Character players and kids coming through who had done well in the previous years in the lower grades. A new vigorous coach.
How good could it be at the start of the season ?
But my seasons finished. Yeah, there's a lower grade team destined for major September games, and I'm always interested in the big games, but my hearts not really in it because we're not there.
My dreams were dashed upon the rocks of injury, unexplained form lapses, big wins over fancied teams when under pressure and poor losses to lesser teams when it ‘should've been' a win. The final straw was the four losses in a row in the last five matches when playing for the top eight position.
The cracks actually began with one of the previous season's emerging players getting injured for the season before a trial match. Other important players didn't even recover properly from off-season operations to take the field during the year without breaking down again for good.
The big crack in the dam wall of Lake Disappointment was the injury to the team's playmaker and go-to man during the Sevens competition. He never recovered and played a fraction of the year's game time.
Then there was the disappointing performances - first match lost to a team which came well below on the final table. What a way to start the season ! Our previously formidable home grounds (yes we have two ‘tough-to-play-and-win-at grounds) turned out to be less than 50:50 win:loss ratios and the season was in a tailspin.
Every now and them we would come out and play a blinder. Through the season we beat almost every team in the top eight, some of them twice. We did, however lose to the teams below us on the final table, sometimes twice. We even struggled to win matches against the wooden spooners.
State of Origin, Test matches, City v. Country, we had representatives in them all and if our injured players had been playing and performed to their capacities we would have had more representatives than ran out during the season. Should've been more.
Sure there were injuries. Throughout the season we lost Test and State of Origin players for the season. These injuries hit hard, but we still won some big games. Trouble is we lost the lesser games. Injuries couldn't be the sole reason, in fact we won the last game over all odds with a backline that would return to Premier League after the match and a patched up forward pack. This was against a team that was full of internationals and State of Origin players.
At different times during the year, players would be up high in the combined NRL tackle counts, line breaks and try assists. There was something else apart from injuries in the team that couldn't be measured but was woefully evident during the season. We continually had one of the most inexperienced teams on the paddocks, week in week out. There was face-slapping for inattention, there was dumb mistakes, there was what seemed to be an unimaginable lack of enthusiasm. It should've been better or handled differently, I don't know.
Everyone is back on deck next year. The coach is blooded. They finished on a high. We have two killer home grounds and committed fans. The kids have 1st grade experience now and it started to show with a couple of players really improving. I imagine we'll have no Kangaroo tourists so they'll be fresh and keen.
It should be a ripper of a season next year. We should win it.
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