Off the Wall

When the premiership rounds ended I gave some thought to what might be the best grand final "combinations". Dragons v Broncos was one, Bulldogs v Eels was another.

Those possibilities fell by the wayside in the first round of the finals! But a Storm v Eels match up still did not register as being one to look forward to.

But if a week is a long time in politics, a month is a millennium in rugby league finals.

We have a grand final matchup few predicted, but one that actually serves the game, and its future, well indeed.

The Melbourne Storm can lay claim to being the premier team of the current decade. And when you look at the post-Super League era - 1998 onwards - they can lay claim to being the success story of the era. Premierships in 1999 (only their second year in the premiership) and 2007 match those of the Broncos if you exclude 1998.

But it is their successive grand final appearances that really stands out - 2006, 2007, 2008, and now 2009. I think it will be a long time before any other club in the modern era will be able to lay claim to that. People who regard the Broncos as the standout team of the post-Super League period overlook the fact that, since 1998, the Broncos have not made two grand finals in succession even though they have won three.

The jury is out on the off field success of the Storm. Without the financial backing of News Limited, the club would now be no more than a part of the history of the game.

The real test for the Storm won't just come this Sunday, it will come in 2010 when its moves to a new state of the art stadium, courtesy of the Victorian Government. Excuses about poor facilities won't be available any longer. To be credible, in a city which has a long history of high attendances at sporting events, anything less than average crowds of 18,000-20,000 won't be enough.

And when it comes to the Eels the on field history could hardly present a greater contrast.

In many ways the Eels have been the disappointment of the post-Super League period. Just one grand final appearance - in 2001. No premierships. And the last grand final victory was the memorable 4-2 defeat of the Bulldogs.

The club has also been impacted by off field dramas that have gone on longer than "Blue Hills". The dramas culminated in the removal of the club's long time CEO, Dennis Fitzgerald, at the start of this season.

His demise even led to suggestions that the career of new coach, Daniel Anderson, would struggle to see out the 2009 season! How wrong they were!

The Eels have not only got their act together off the field, their on field performances have gained credibility in the second half of the season. And now they go from eighth place to a grand final.

When you look at their player line up, the future looks bright regardless of what happens on Sunday.

The off field instability has largely gone and while the club's finances are not in the best shape, the fans are back in their thousands - and that is not just good for the Eels, it is good for the NRL as it prepares for the arrival of a second AFL team in Western Sydney.

This should be a grand final for our time - one that is between the stand out team of recent years, and one that, until a few months ago, was underperforming. That naturally makes the Storm favourites ($1.60) - but you cannot discount the Eels chances.

My only grand final hope is that, around 6PM (Brisbane time) Sunday night the real winner is the greatest game of all. We still need all the pluses we can muster!