Grand Final Preview: As much as it would be a real delight – both spiritually for the great JT and financially having steamed in at the 10s pre-season – to see the Cowboys lift the trophy on Sunday night, it won’t happen. The Broncos look absolute specials to win their seventh title and end their longest ever drought. The Cowboys have the best player on the field but Grand Finals are won on defence and the Broncos have the Cows on toast defensively. Throw in Wayne Bennett and a better ability to travel and the Broncos look like morales. The big edge for Brisbane is their ability to play inside out, which should help them take advantage of the big Cowboys forwards. The Broncos halves have 60-plus tries and assists this year, a remarkable number. Brisbane’s form is as strong as any team’s. There are few frailties. The Broncos’ left edge defence is a concern and one that Justin O’Neill and Kyle Feldt – both fast and strong – can take advantage of it. But that is the only real spot on the paddock the Cowboys have an edge. The money will roll in for the Broncos and they won’t disappoint. BRISBANE 28 – NORTH QUEENSLAND 12
Farewell to a Legend: Broncos skipper Justin Hodges has rarely been many punters’ cup of tea. He has a loud mouth and a penchant for being a sook. He always looked a likely type but an embarrassing Origin debut and an ill-advised tiff with Wayne Bennett put him on the backfoot. But – even despite a frail body that has kept him sidelined more than any player of his standing should be – he has risen to become arguably the best centre this side of Mal Meninga. No player was harder to tackle. No player from the centre position managed to dominate as often and as noticeably as Hodges. It was great to see Hodges escape his injury curse and suspension to be given the farewell that he deserves.
A True Champion: Johnathan Thurston was outstanding all 2015 and went in an unbackable favourite to win the Dally M Medal. He was rightly honoured. He is now recognised as arguably the equal of Andrew Johns. Read what a true champion Thurston is at The Guardian here.
Fun Fact #1: Wayne Bennett teams have not conceded double figures in a Grand Final in six of his seven deciders as a head coach in the premiership. The only team to reach double figures against the Bulldogs in 1998.
Fun Fact #2: The last Grand Final decided by a single score was the 2004 decider. Five of the last 10 Grand Finals have been determined by margins of 13 or more.
Fun Fact #3: Johnathan Thurston has finished in the Top 5 of Dally M Medal voting in nine of the last 11 seasons.
2015 Field Goal Update – 40: Brisbane’s Anthony Milford slotted the 40th field goal of the season to seal the win against the Roosters.
Rumour Mill: Todd Carney is rumoured to be making a return to the NRL and it looks like Penrith are the favourites to win his signature. The Panthers are looking for a genuine playmaker in the halves and Carney is a fine fit. Despite Kieran Foran withdrawing from the Kiwis’ end of season tour – and Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai hurt – Benji Marshall won’t be called up. Stephen Kearney has moved on from Marshall. Martin Taupau is ready to leave the Tigers and join the Titans but needs a release.
Betting Market of the Week: In the wake of the embarrassing ceremony that was the Dally M Awards, the NRL will:
$101: Admit they have an inferior product and copy the format of the Brownlow Medal
$51: Create their own Player of the Year award
$1.01: Blindly continue to snub both revenue and respect by persisting with the existing format of the Dally M Medal as the game’s highest individual honour.
Manly Collapse Update: Manly have made a massive error in releasing exciting youngster Clint Gutherson so he can join the Eels. The Sea Eagles are stacked at outside back but let maybe their best youngster go while a pair of aging centres were re-signed and Peta Hiku has put on weight like he has been on a fried chicken diet. Gutherson has a bright future and Manly have missed it.
Apologies: Isaac John to Manly, not Issac Luke! Sorry for the angst.
What I Like About … Wayne Bennett: There are so many things to like about the greatest coach of all-time but two things that are worth mentioning this week are his timing and his preparation. No coach can time their run better than Bennett. Since Origin, Bennett’s team has lost the minor premiership but has tightened its defence and was ready for September. And boy, were they ready for the Roosters. There is absolutely no doubt that Bennett had spotted the Roosters’ insistence on starting sets from the middle of the field. So the chase charged hard. And it paid off with an idiotic Shaun Kenny-Dowall pass that led straight to a Darius Boyd try. Bennett has footballers at his disposal and he prepared them to beat the team of athletes. It was great to watch.
The Coaching Crosshairs: It will be interesting to see how much leeway is given to Jason Taylor next season. A new CEO certainly ensure the loyalty to Taylor from the front office has been reduced and results have hardly been forthcoming. More importantly, there has been little development of young halves Luke Brooks and Mitch Moses. If there was betting on first coach fired next year, Taylor would be the very short-priced favourite.
Referee Power Rankings: Discontinued forever.
Game of the Year Nomination, Finals Week 3: Brisbane – Sydney Roosters, 31-12. It is hard to go past the total domination Brisbane laid on the Roosters, a blitzkrieg that began from the first minute and ended in humiliation for the Roosters. It was an incredible display against a team that had won three straight minor premierships.
Ricky Stuart Stat of the Week: Ricky Stuart’s last Grand Final was 11 seasons ago.
Beard Watch: One of the more underrated moustaches to his the scene in 2015 is the pencil-thin moustache worn by Grand Final five-eighth that would have both Errol Flynn and Little Richard proud.
Watch It: On the 20-year anniversary of my favourite Grand Final, let’s go back to that famous day and arguably the greatest upset in decider history when sixth-placed Canterbury kept near-undefeated Manly tryless in a 17-4 rout. There was some controversy, some brilliant play and the most joyous of celebrations in a victory that marked the end of the great Canterbury era of Terry Lamb, Peter Moore and Chris Anderson. Watch it here.