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Some could argue that the NRL is merely a token national competition, given that it only consists of clubs from three states. But in saying that, there is no better advertisement for a national game than two non-NSW teams contesting a Grand Final. And with last weekend?s victories to the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm, we will see just that come Sunday evening.
But here?s the ironic part. The NRL has made a point in recent years of staging the Grand Final on the Labor Day long weekend. However, the Labor Day weekend is only held in NSW.
Just how will Melbourne or Brisbane supporters fare trying to catch that last plane home after a grand final victory or loss on Sunday night? Not to mention getting to work on Monday morning.
On that basis, the NRL should revert to a Sunday afternoon decider. But how unfair of me to think of the fans before the dollars generated by rising television ratings?
There?s the gripe out of the way. Now to the weekend?s matches.
Just what happened to the Bulldogs on Friday night? Willie Mason and co came out last week and told us all how great the Bulldogs are and how na?ve the media were to make references to the team?s two previous clashes with the Broncos this season, of which Brisbane were victorious.
Until halftime, his statements had merit. The Bulldogs looked outstanding early and held a 20-6 advantage at the break. At that stage, you could be forgiven for penciling them in for a second Grand Final appearance in three seasons.
But an inspiring halftime address from Brisbane Coach Wayne Bennett, combined with a suffocation of epic proportions from the Bulldogs, gave Brisbane a resounding 37-20 victory.
I must question Steve Folkes? decision to start Friday night?s contest with four forwards on the bench. The injury to Daniel Holdsworth resulted in a major reshuffle and placed the Bulldogs on the back foot. All sides should have at least one backline player on the bench.
The bench should be selected to replace injured players. Not to rest unfit forwards. The Dogs need to learn their lesson here.
Having said all that, full credit must go to the Broncos for their comeback win. I fail to see evidence as to why Andrew Johns is currently a better player than Darren Lockyer. In the title for world?s best player, I think we have a new leader. Shane Webcke and Petero Civoniceva may be aging but they are still two of the world?s best props.
We?ve been hearing all year that the Bulldogs boast the best forward pack in the competition; I fail to see how they?re superior to a Broncos pack which has out-muscled them on three occasions this season. I think overrated could be the adequate term used to describe both the Bulldogs? forward pack and their ability to rise to the occasion for crucial matches.
Back to the drawing board for Willie and co in 2007 and I?m sure they?re indulging themselves in a few cold ones as we speak.
Onto Saturday?s match and it was a professional display from the best team in the competition, the Melbourne Storm. St George Illawarra was never in this match. Right from the outset they found themselves on the receiving end after some vigorous and typical Melbourne defence.
Even at 6-all, the Dragons were hard pressed to find their first try and Melbourne cracked the Dragons? line with ease. There?s no place for any doomsayers towards Nathan Brown ? the Melbourne Storm were just too strong.
The Dragons will rue the fact that their current crop of players never played in a premiership, however. Trent Barrett, Shaun Timmins and Luke Bailey will all be moving on and this will enter a rebuilding phase for the Dragons? playing roster, one which will provide a true test of just how far Nathan Brown?s coaching career has developed.
Melbourne?s X-factor would have to be its organisational skills in both attack and defence. They are, without question, the most organised unit in the competition. And you can look no further than coach Craig Bellamy for the side?s success this season.
They have a workman-like forward pack which features names such as Brett White, Garret Crossman and Ian Donelly, a settled halves combination in Scott Hill and the ever-improving Cooper Cronk, and a formidable backline which terrorise its opposition week after week.
The Storm illustrated each of these traits against the Dragons, and it has to hold them in good stead for the decider on Sunday evening.
It will be a Grand Final to remember. I?ll stick my neck out and tip Melbourne but a Darren Lockyer blinder could swing this one the other way, which is why it will be a fascinating duel. I?m sure the Queenslanders and Victorians will be laughing all the way to Telstra Stadium with no NSW teams present, and the build-up should be fairly intriguing.
Another issue this week has been the Sharks decision to sack Stuart Raper, with Ricky Stuart his likely successor. I think Stuart is Cronulla?s ideal choice in this situation. Raper tended to take a more relaxed approach to his coaching ? something the beach boys out at the shire probably relished for the wrong reasons. Stuart will deliver a no-nonsense approach and will command success from the outset. A mindset the Sharks, as a club, desperately need.