Well it’s back to business – congratulations to the mighty Maroons, and commiserations to the valiant Blues, but now it’s time to set aside the state loyalties we so enthusiastically flaunt, and venture back to the real rugby league world.
I love many stages of our season – those mouth-watering unpredictable opening games after the long drought of the off-season; the nitty gritty of the following rounds when the dust settles and the ladder starts to take shape; the anticipation and exhilaration of Origin build-up; the three games themselves; and then (now!) perhaps my favourite time of the year: the back-to-business period. Now is the time when we slip back into the familiar colours of our clubs, and relish the prospect of the unravelling of the remainder of the season.
The return of Origin players adds an unknown dimension to the impending rounds. Niggling injuries and emotions can prove a potent mix that produces some odd results; but despite this, history has proven that the consummate professionals who are our Telstra Premiership players are not likely to deliver compromised performances in coming weeks.
The finals are a double-edged sword for me and most other tragics – the advent of the season’s most exciting contests can’t in any way compensate for the fact that our weekends will soon be footy-free for five months. So in my book this is the time to savour. Games grow increasingly tense, and results have more riding on them than a streaker has petroleum jelly.
The enticing prospect of the Roosters and Sharks doing battle at Allianz Stadium Friday night is as good a way as any to get back to business. We should see both sides playing masterful, crisp, brilliantly executed footy, with an intensity that will belie the fact that the Sharks will probably be missing a good chunk of their regular line-up (Paul Gallen... gone; Luke Lewis... gone). Todd Carney, with a point to prove, could easily turn the match Cronulla’s way with a five-minute patch of glorious artistry.
Speaking of getting back to business, the Sea Eagles will be eager to continue their pre-Origin winning streak with a convincing victory against the Titans. Manly will certainly be trying to harness the momentum from these earlier wins, and will be respectful of the fact that Gold Coast are playing much stronger footy at the moment than the Eels or Cowboys. Even in a relative chilly 14 degrees there can’t be too many more enjoyable ways of whiling away a Sunday afternoon than witnessing a contest of this magnitude and interest at Brooky.
The rugby league focus is thinly spread today – Origin post-match wraps: certainly; tantalising scenarios over the next eight rounds: definitely; and, sadly, the loss to the game of an extraordinary individual of overwhelming capacity, energy and tenacity – Benji adds more to the Tigers, to the game and to our community than the combination of his prodigious talent, his generosity, his decency and his commitment. I am struggling to think of a player in any code who is so much more than the sum of his parts. Losing Benji is certainly not the business we want to get back to. We lament his departure and we wish him well. Get out to Leichhardt tonight to watch another intriguing contest between teams that have had more ups and downs this year than most, and so that you can tell your grandkids one day that you were lucky enough to see the greatest Tiger of them all.
So recharge your emotion, loyalty and passion, recall your club jerseys from the laundry basket, adorn yourself once more with scarves, beanies and flags, and head out to your favourite haunts – our club grounds. The best is yet to come – Rounds 19 to 26, followed by the business end of the season.
And I know I speak for all of us when I say: bring it on!