THE 2014 NRL Grand Final is proof, if it was ever needed, that rugby league at the top level will always be the most brutal of the football codes.
The administrators can tinker with the rules as much as they like, but when 34 elite athletes, play a game, which, in effect is trench warfare, there will be casualties. I am convinced Bulldogs English enforcer, James Graham knows what he is doing when he leads with his head, and being Liverpool born and bred, he has brought a new, literal meaning to the term Liverpool Kiss.
Graham and Sam Burgess are throw backs to the glory days of English forwards, and what a waste to lose Burgess to the ‘pick and go’ game of rugby union. His new home, Bath need all the players they can get, after they forfeited a pre-season reserve grade match because they could not field a team. What? I’m sure Bath coach, Mike Ford (a former South Queensland Crusher) would have had his boys watching a tape of the NRL grand final, and as a result Sam can expect to be called ‘Mr Burgess’ on his arrival at the posh town on the River Avon.
South Sydney’s previous premiership triumph, in 1971, was played in front of a crowd of 62,838 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The Rabbitohs defeated rank outsiders, St George, 16-10 in a classic encounter. St George featured in all three grades that glorious spring day. I was a spectator on ‘The Hill’, and got there early for the lower grade matches. In Third Grade St George, with little Mark Shulman at halfback and future first grade premiership captain, Steve Edge on the bench, played a Canterbury side with future Redcliffe prop, Steve Bullow (pictured) in the pack. Englishman, Tom Berry, who went on to coach Souths in Brisbane, had charge of St George. St George’s reserve grade was captained by dual international, Phil Hawthorne, who had captained Australia in rugby league the previous season. Saints’ first grade coach, Jack Gibson preferred the more solid, Tony Branson as his first grade five eighth. Hawthorne’s halves partner in the reserves was Ross ‘the rat’ Strudwick, who would go on to play for Australia, from Valleys in Brisbane.
I enjoyed the three grades, (Saints lost ’em all) although it was wearying looking into the sun all day. Last Sunday I watched all three grades from the comfort of my lounge room, the first time since 1991 that I haven’t been in Sydney for the decider. No doubt I was missed at The Clovelly Hotel on the Saturday. I couldn’t believe it when Yvonne Sampson remarked to fellow Channel 9 commentator, Wally Lewis that he never got to play in a grand final. Yvonne, who is a very able sports commentator, obviously meant ‘the King’ had not played in a NRL (ARL, NSWRL, SYDNEY) grand final, but he did play in five Brisbane Grand finals, all of them drawing 30,000 plus crowds.
The under-20s grand final was typical under-20s. the Warrors led 34-6 after 53 minutes, but they were far from ‘home’, and, just as coach, Craig Hodges predicted, the Broncos finished the stronger, only to lose 34-32. Warriors’ coach, Stacey Jones remained remarkably cool during the Broncos’ fightback, and it would be a shame to see him go the way of other coaches if he graduates to the NRL, which looks likely, given he will coach the Warriors NSW Cup side in 2015.