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Grand Final week has arrived!
The Wests Tigers and North Queensland Cowboys have well and truly earned their place in the 2005 decider, after toppling the highly fancied Dragons and Eels in the Preliminary Finals.
Victory in two enthralling finals has the Tigers and Cowboys promising the most entertaining Grand Final match up since the Eels and Knights turned it on in 2001.
Grand Final Notebook will document the news and views of Grand Final Week and keep you informed during the buildup to Sunday Night.
The Cowboys returned to Townsville to a delirious crowd at the airport. Wednesday has already been planned as ?Cowboys Day? by the local mayor and the fever that gripped the town for the Finals Series last year could amazingly be topped in the biggest week in Queensland footballing history since the Broncos made their first decider in 1992. If the Cowboys emerge victorious on Sunday they would keep the undefeated record the Broncos have set for Queensland club sides in the national competition after Brisbane won 5 premierships in 5 Grand Finals.
Rival Coaches Tim Sheens and Graham Murray have both been to Grand Final?s before. Sheens orchestrated the era of Canberra dominance with 3 premierships in 4 deciders (89, 90, 91 [lost to Penrith], 94) while Murray led the Roosters into the big game in 2000 where they fell to the Broncos 14-6.
Benji Marshall?s try to open the scoring Saturday night was a thing of beauty and it should have served as a reminder to players and coaches from the teams that have bowed out of the title race: the scrum is the most dangerous attacking platform to score points from. The Tigers have been the most creative side from the scrum this season and watching Marshall race through a yawning gap in the heralded Dragons defensive line must have reinforced the point. Let?s hope the incredibly boring and unnecessary tactic of running a back rower or straight running three quarter from first receiver off a scrum (when not in the attacking 20) will be swept out of the game when ball work and planning sessions get underway in the off-season.
Luke O?Donnell rightfully escaped any mention in the NRL Judiciary?s report for Week 3 of the Finals after his late, but not illegal clash with Parramatta halfback Tim Smith. O?Donnell, who like the rest of the wider running Cowboys forwards, was under instruction from the Cowboys coaching staff to pressure Smith early and often, and his challenge on Smith could only be faulted by its lateness. The fact Smith (and O?Donnell) suffered cuts to their respective heads, is what drew the ire of the video referee and while a penalty was probably warranted, placing O?Donnell on report was simply a reaction to the blood coming from Smith?s head wound (opened up by O?Donnell?s chin). As one of North Queensland?s best in the past two weeks, O?Donnell would be a very astute punter?s pick for the Clive Churchill Medal, should the Cowboys take out the 2005 title.
Amazingly Pat Richards might be a chance of playing in the decider, after all when scans today cleared him of a major ankle injury. Richards, who only this week spoke openly about how frustrating major injuries had been earlier in his career and how it was great to be rid of them, has suffered a cruel twist of fate (particularly given his comments before the match) and let?s hope he can take the field Sunday. If he cannot go come game time, his likely replacement is John Wilson especially given Dene Halatau?s outstanding effort at lock against the Dragons.
Stat of the Day
During the regular season the Tigers scored but three tries more than the Cowboys 117-114. Although the Tigers have poured on the points in the Finals Series this statistic could serve as a pointer to the fact this Grand Final could throw up a see-sawing contest with plenty of points.
For the record: Pat Richards (19 Tries) and Paul Whatuira (18) pace the Tigers, while Matthew Bowen (20) and Ty Williams (18) lead the Cowboys.
?They (Eels) self-destructed and the Cowboys just pushed them over the edge,? League analyst Phil Gould in his SMH column. It seemed a little more comprehensive than that, it was almost like the Cowboys kidnapped the Eels, drove them out to the edge of a cliff and then pushed them over the edge, such was the control they had on most of the match.
?He was my man. I was just putting pressure on him,? Luke O?Donnell puts his view forward on his collision with Tim Smith in the second half, O?Donnell was proved correct as the challenge attracted no charge from the Judiciary.
?I don?t know what was worse, losing or the extent of the loss,? Glenn Morrison tries to sum up the feeling inside the Parramatta camp.
?I thought we were pretty dominant and play some really good football. Our defence was outstanding,? Graham Murray tells it like it was; a refreshing change from the traditional ?we can do better next week/our opposition didn?t play well? lines that can dominate a post-match press conference.
?In a code populated by giants, two tag teams of leprechauns have made it through to the last game of the NRL year,? Expert league writer Roy Masters in the SMH.
?The weight that was on St. George tonight was what came from the rugby league community: that they were a better side than us. And in many ways they are,? Tim Sheens. The score board suggests otherwise.
?It was a good opportunity but we blew it and it won?t get any easier next year (making a Grand Final),? Luke Bailey who has one last chance with the Dragons to win a Grand Final before he moves to the new Gold Coast Titans in 2007.
"It's terrific, we've given our fans something to cheer for and that's great,? Sheens again. He understands that his side is not just playing for their own glory, but that of the fans.
Grand Final Trivia Question One
Since 1980 which player holds the record for the most consecutive appearances in a Grand Final? A. Peter Sterling B. Glenn Lazarus C. Mal Meninga D. Kevin Walters E. Brad Fittler