The Greatest Game of All: Sunday night’s Grand Final was the greatest game of Rugby League ever played. It surpassed the ’89 Grand Final, the ’85 Challenge Cup final, the ’13 World Cup semi and any number of Origin matches. It was played with a fervour and a pace rarely seen in a decider. The drama involved could not have been scripted. Men cried such was the beauty of the spectacle the two Queensland teams put on.
Brisbane held firm most of the night. They were arguably better than the Cowboys all season. But few could deny North Queensland were deserving premiers and that Johnathan Thurston was anything but meant for that victory.
I am still lost for words. Sport just does not get any better than that.
Ratings Win: The NRL proved that Rugby League truly is the national game with a blistering demolition of the AFL in the television ratings – even under the completely unrepresentative and unfair five-city measure.
Poor Ben Hunt: It is hard not to feel entirely sorry for Grand Final goat Ben Hunt, whose spill at the beginning of Golden Point handed the Cowboys their first premiership and ensured his name would forever be etched into Grand Final infamy. Hunt endured a difficult night and it was capped off by a spill that was reminiscent of Martin Bella on the opening kick of the ’94 Grand Final. Hunt has been brilliant all year but he will struggle to ever put that drop behind him.
Let’s Do It All Again: Wayne Bennett was right – we should all be back next weekend for a Grand Final replay. There is absolutely zero reason why fairness shouldn’t prevail. A replay is a lot fairer than golden point. The NRL needs to change this immediately.
Chisel Rock Out: It is not a difficult formula when putting together the pre-game entertainment yet it is one the NRL and AFL constantly mess up. Simply find an old act that rocks out and taps into nostalgia. The NRL should simply alternate every year between Chisel and Tina Turner. Chisel were stunning on Sunday night with some old school classics that had the stadium jumping. Well done to the NRL for finally getting it right.
Dally M Embarrassment: While it was fantastic to see Johnathan Thurston deservedly win his fourth Dally M Medal, it was humiliating to see the NRL’s most respected individual award go head-to-head with the AFL’s Brownlow Medal and not surprisingly get walloped. The Brownlow is a respected event and a fantastic television experience. The Dally M is a media organisation award and a miserable TV event. The quicker the NRL claim the top award back and then re-shape it to the Brownlow format, the better off the NRL will be.
Fun Fact #1: The last five premiership winning coaches were with their first club when winning. The last three have won within three years of their hire.
Fun Fact #2: Wayne Bennett is the only ‘recycled’ coach to win a premiership since 2000.
Fun Fact #3: In 2016 seven clubs will be coached by a recycled coach, including five where the coach has either not won a premiership (Newcastle, Gold Coast, Wests Tigers, Penrith) or has not won a premiership in the last decade (Canberra).
2015 Field Goal Count – 41: Nobody will ever forget Johnathan Thurston’s match-winning drop goal to give the Cowboys their first ever NRL title. It was a moment that will live through the ages.
Rumour Mill: Andrew Johns will not be at Nine next year. The station is frustrated with his behaviour but more pointedly Johns is on the verge of signing with Fox Sports and now no longer has the protection of the free-to-air broadcaster. Ipswich Jets Grand Final hero Marmin Barba is set to get a crack at the NRL with the Sydney Roosters and Cronulla Sharks favourites for his signature. Don’t expect the bloodletting at the Tigers to end anytime soon. Jason Taylor has cleaned house with coaches but Robbie Farah is set to dig his heels in and keep the pressure on Taylor to find success early in 2016.
Betting Market of the Week: Ben Hunt’s offseason will entail:
$101: Catching lessons from Ben Pomeroy
$101: Catching lessons from Martin Bella
$101: Big-game play lessons from Paul Carige
$1.02: Plenty of time with Brisbane’s sports psychologist
Manly Collapse Update: One area that will liven Manly’s spirits heading into 2016 is the acquisition of hooker Matt Parcell. Parcell was electric in Ipswich’s state cup win and will give the Sea Eagles some much-needed spark out of dummy-half in 2016.
What I Like About … Justin Hodges: Sports is about winners and it is about losers and in big games there are always both. Unfortunately, some of those consigned to defeat are often the game’s finest winners. So it was with Justin Hodges on Sunday night when the retiring champion stood stunned – yet entirely gracious – by the heartbreaking Grand Final defeat. Hodges, a misunderstood great, stands as arguably the best centre of the last two decades. He achieved all there was to achieve in the game. He overcame a difficult start to his career to establish himself as one of the all-time great three-quarters. Hodges left the game with grace, humility and disappointment but is a player who should always be remembered for his wonderful prowess and deep competitiveness who could embarrass opposition centres with one shimmy, with one fend, with one stinging line.
The Coaching Crosshairs: The Walker Brothers – who guided Ipswich to an unlikely Queensland Cup win – showed once again they are ready for the NRL by leading the Jets to the NRL State Championship in dominant fashion. The flair, smarts and creativity shown by the Jets totally bamboozled and frustrated the Knights. Ironically, it is Newcastle who should have taken a risk on the Walkers. Instead they consigned themselves to at least another few seasons of mediocrity.
Referee Power Rankings: Thank the ghost of Darcy Lawler that a refereeing blunder did not determine the Grand Final as many had feared all year.
Game of the Year: North Queensland – Brisbane, 17-16. Not only was the best game of 2015 saved for last, the match itself sits atop the pantheon of great matches ever played and is arguably the finest match in the long and illustrious history of the great game known as Rugby League.
Ricky Stuart Stat of the Week: The last time Justin Hodges lost a Grand Final before Sunday’s classic was under the coaching of Stuart in 2004.
Beard Watch: There was not a lot of beard action in the Grand Final with Sam Thaiday sporting the most impressive Broncos beard and James Tamou the champion Cowboy chops. The top beard of the day though went to the retiring Frank Pritchard who looked like one of The Wild Samoans when presenting during the farewell parade.
Watch It: The 2015 Grand Final had so many incredible moments. Here was the decisive one when the best player in the game – the best player of a generation – slotted the winning field goal in Golden Point to secure the Cowboys’ first premiership two decades after they entered the league. Watch it here.