Andrew Bryan, NRL.com
So this is grand final week eh?
A caffeine-fuelled week of non-stop functions, events and nervous anticipation. This is the sixth grand final week that I have worked on, and it is still very special and an absolute privilege to be a part of. From the incredible crowd of 71,000-plus people that turned up to watch the Bulldogs play the Rabbitohs on Saturday night, it has been an action-packed week of festivities.
I left the vacated ANZ Stadium after midnight on Sunday morning, knowing in seven days I would return to watch the two best teams of the competition battle it out for premiership glory. While the players and fans had long since left the stadium and only myself, a few cleaners and security guards remained in the inner sanctum, the place still had an aura and a vibe of electricity that hung in the empty, silent corridors. It was haunting.
The week since has been a blur.
Ask any player who has experienced an NRL grand final week – most will tell you they can hardly remember them and that it goes so quick. While there are undoubtedly a lot of commitments for the players, it is a very special week for them to be a part of - one they wouldn’t trade for the world. As Bulldogs centre Josh Morris aptly told me in the sheds after they beat South Sydney to qualify for rugby league’s grandest stage, “I’ve watched the last couple of grand finals at the pub; I’d much rather be out there playing.”
From the lavish One Community Awards night at the magnificent town hall, celebrating the unsung heroes of our game, to the fan days, the kids’ clinics, the open media days, the press conferences and more – grand final week continues to do the impossible – it keeps getting bigger.
From managing and coordinating media opportunities with international rock stars Good Charlotte, to the traditional grand final breakfast where the snooze button on my iphone was tested to its extreme limit, to herding NRL players on and off a modified golf cart to transport them to multiple events around the ANZ Stadium precinct, it has been an amazing week.
Thursday saw me start the day at the GF breakfast, travel out to ANZ Stadium for a fan day and exclusive members' party before the Footy Show, and then double-time it back to Darling Harbour to help announce the eighth immortal by projecting an image of Andrew Johns onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon.
It was a surreal experience.
It is not every day you get to help put a rugby league image on to a world-famous landmark, but then again, grand final week happens but once a year.
And so it was that on Thursday night I found myself scaling winding scaffolding on the edge of Sydney Harbour and entering a small tent-like structure housing six massive projectors aimed at the iconic bridge - the raw heat protruding from the projectors sucked oxygen and smacked you directly in the face.
This is the ‘glamour’ behind the scenes of a rugby league event, and yet – I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
This is grand final week.
A week where journalists are frantically trying to find unique angles to cover the big game and then desperately hoping their stories will hold over until it is time to publish – praying that another media outlet hasn’t produced the same idea and beaten them to the punch.
A week where players and coaches try to maintain the status quo and desperately cling onto some sense of routine and normality as they prepare for the biggest game of their careers.
It is the biggest week on the rugby league calendar, and everyone has their job to play. It is a celebration - not only for the two teams and their fans, but for all rugby league supporters.
So we turn our attention to Sunday: a massive carnival-like experience, with live music, team bars, a merchandise supercentre, rugby league skills clinics, cheerleading classes, carnival rides, face painting, roving performers, laser skirmish, a zip-line and three massive games of rugby league.
Where the Dally M Medallist clashes with one of the greatest fullbacks the game has ever seen, where two coaches with a long history reignite a long running rivalry. Where for 80 pulsating minutes, the rugby league world will stop and be totally transfixed as legends are made and history is written.
Follow Andrew Bryan on twitter: @AndrewBryan321