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Friday wrapped up with both the Wests Tigers and North Queensland Cowboys going into lockdown mode with only two sleeps until the big game. Pat Richards remains in serious doubt due to damaged ankle ligaments, while Travis Norton appears to be ready to go after overcoming a back ailment. At this stage Norton will definitely play but Richards would still only be a 50/50 chance at best. Wide ranging speculation over who will replace Richards has yet to turn up a solid prediction, so expect Richards to play if you?re betting on the match.
The SMH ran a ?footy card? like poster of both the sides today which looked impressive, yet disappointingly produced two pictures of rake Robbie Farah on the cards of Farah and reserve forward Chris Heighington. To make matters worse the Herald also ran a short feature article on Heighington on the next page which could only have drawn attention to his ?face? beaming from across the spreadsheet. Fortunately despite three headgear wearing Cowboys players; winger Ty Williams, five-eighth Johnathan Thurston and utility Rod Jensen had their own faces on their cards.
For all the publicity the likes of Matthew Bowen, Benji Marshall, Johnathan Thurston and Brett Hodgson are getting this week, two of the most improved players in the NRL will be locking horns in the scrum on Sunday. And we?re not talking about props either. Aaron Payne and Robbie Farah have had unbelievable years compared to their 2004 form and then stature in their respective sides. Payne has made the hooking jumper well and truly his own this year with consistently incisive performances from dummy half, while Farah has blossomed in the role he was groomed for last season before injury struck. There will be a bigger breakdown of their impact on their side?s attacking prowess tomorrow in the Grand Final Preview.
Spare a thought for all the players in the Lower Grades who are preparing for their own Grand Finals. For many of these players in both Jersey Flegg and Premier League, Sunday?s game might be the apex of their footballing careers as there is not always an opportunity at the NRL level for every aspiring player. In Premier League particularly the Sydney Roosters and Parramatta Eels have several players involved who may not see regular first grade football again. For Parramatta Chris Muckert, James Storer and Peter Lewis have all tasted NRL action during their careers while Lelea Paea and Robbie Simpson have also had NRL cameos; but all five failed to appear in first grade this season. In no way can you suggest these players will not make a return to the NRL, but a Premier League title represents a chance to add a significant moment to their resume as they try and crack the big time again. For the younger players involved in the Eels-Roosters (PL) and Dragons-Eels (JF) Grand Finals, luck and opportunity stand in the way of their NRL dreams, so capturing a premiership in the lower grades could prove to be the highlight of their careers. Good luck to all four sides.
Stat of the Day
For those Rugby Union fans who love their league, here are the pack weights for the Grand Final. While Scrums no longer mean much in today?s game, the ability to cart the ball forward and shut down the opposition?s own go-forward makes extra size a key factor in any winning equation.
North Queensland Cowboys Forwards
Paul Rauhihi ? 117kg Shane Tronc ? 115kg Mitchell Sargent ? 107kg Luke O?Donnell ? 102kg Justin Smith ? 102kg Travis Norton ? 98kg Steve Southern ? 98kg David Faiumu ? 95kg Rod Jensen ? 85kg Aaron Payne ? 82kg
Wests Tigers Forwards
Todd Payten ? 112kg John Skandalis ? 107kg Bryce Gibbs ? 104kg Anthony Laffranchi ? 102kg Chris Heighington ? 101kg Mark O?Neill ? 101kg Ben Galea ? 95kg Liam Fulton ? 90kg Dene Halatau ? 89kg Robbie Farah 87kg
Total Pack Weights: NQL: 1001kg WTG: 988kg
The Starting Packs: NQL: 612kg WTG: 581kg
And for interest?s sake the Backs (assuming Justin Smith as a forward): NQL: 616kg WTG: 614kg
In terms of pure ?heft? the Cowboys hold a significant advantage, particularly in the Starting Packs. But this ?deficiency? hasn?t worried the Tigers too much this season...
?If I was coaching the Cowboys this week, I would give them the Jerry Seinfeld game plan. I can sum up the game plan with just one word ? NOTHING.? Supercoach Phil Gould not quite doing his best job to prove he?s a better coach than comedian.
"To his (Graham Murray) credit, Muzza came in and straight away he was very up-beat and positive, which probably at the time was a real bonus for us because there was a fairly negative vibe around the club. Each year we got one or two more wins than the previous year. It was a slow building process but there was improvement each year.? Josh Hannay reflects on the importance of Graham Murray?s appointment as head coach and the gradual road that led to this Grand Final appearance.
?It just tells you that when these opportunities come you?ve got to do all you can to take them because they may not come again.? Shane Elford explains that knowing how long Mark O?Neill and John Skandalis have waited for a Grand Final opportunity makes him realise all the more how rare this chance at premiership glory is.
"The Knights? Andrew Johns, like Wests Tigers? Benji Marshall, gets most of the credit but the platform for his attack brilliant attack comes from the No.9 at the ruck.? Roy Masters providing a little more insight into how the Wests Tigers attacking machine clicks into gear, much like the Johns and Buderus combination in Newcastle.
?I?m probably more worried about losing my tan.? Paul Rauhihi delivers the one liner of the week while responding to a question about how he?ll cope with the colder weather in northern England next season.
Grand Final Trivia Question Five
Since 1988 which set of 6 referees have controlled the Grand Final? A. Bill Harrigan, Michael Stone, Graeme West, David Manson, Tim Mander & Graeme Annesley B. Bill Harrigan, Greg McCallum, Tim Mander, David Manson, Graeme Annesley & Eddie Ward C. Bill Harrigan, Michael Stone, Graeme Annesley, David Manson, Tim Mander & Eddie Ward D. Bill Harrigan, Michael Stone, David Manson, Greg McCallum, Tim Mander & Eddie Ward
Yesterday?s Answer: C. 1956-1966 St. George won 11 straight titles. Another small typo crept into the Trivia Answer yesterday. Paul Whatuira only played 2005 with the Tigers, not 2004 & 2005 as listed in the answer.