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Compelling finals a 1980s flashback

Compelling finals a 1980s flashback
The Newcastle Knights have been one of the feelgood stories of the NRL in 2013 - but can they keep their dream run alive? Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos

Here I am facing the usual dilemma of the end of another mighty NRL season – should my year’s ‘wrap’ focus on looking back on a mixed year, or look forward to a better year? Is it too indulgent to only address on the field issues, ignoring off-field low points, or does the whole box and dice need to be assessed?

As reflections go, some of the lows from this season were pretty low indeed. At times there were so many clouds hovering over so many issues we were struggling to see any way out of the fog.

The impact of Sandor Earl’s frank and confronting interview shown on this week’s Footy Show is all the evidence we need of the highly inflammatory nature of any incident involving drugs in league. Nothing compromises the integrity and appeal of sport as quickly and emphatically as the suggestion of drugs, and the sooner the whole drugs in sport nightmare is resolved the better off we all shall be. Let’s hope it’s well and truly done and dusted before season 2014.

Off-field behaviour in a few cases generated on-field penalties, including the worst punishment of them all, suspension. How frustrating for us, the average punter, watching some of our best and brightest young talents seemingly squander the brilliant opportunities our great game extends to them. It is gratifying to see the clubs that have invested so heavily in these young stars discharge so diligently their duty of care to support players and families when they hit rough patches – there’s certainly a silver lining to that cloud!

I think most diehard Blues tragics would agree with me that Origin was a nail-biting, excruciatingly tantalising, bitterly disappointing – highlight – of the year. Yep, you read right: highlight! Three tremendous games, each different in style, temperament, pace and key players, captivating if not the nation, then certainly a fair proportion of it. The Mal Meninga legend deservedly lives on, but Laurie Daley has certainly given us every reason to confidently predict that next year’s Origin series will live up to all the hype it will unquestionably generate, and that there is a very good chance that the Maroons’ winning streak will finally be halted at eight.

One can’t mention predictions without wondering how many of us would have stated with some assurance that the Storm would have the last two weeks of the season off? I, for one, backed them to emerge from their late-season slump and revert to their clinical, brilliant ways. It wasn’t to be.

The Knights ended Melbourne’s season – and what a story they are. Wayne Bennett’s battlers – who might have surprised even their most loyal fans with their dominant run home – defeating last year’s grand finalists and last year’s premiers in the past fortnight to set up a mouth-watering clash with the minor-premiers, the Roosters.

This finals series has been one of the most exciting I can remember – and I can’t see the next two weeks being any different. Tries aplenty, yes; but also grinding, defensive, desperate football that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 1980s.

As a rugby league reporter my feelings are mixed this time of year. On one hand a little bit of me is looking forward to a break from our great game –a time to refresh and catch my breath… but a much bigger part of me will miss the week-to-week grind, sometimes exciting, sometimes mundane… but always rewarding… that is until pre-season starts – and as any player will tell you – that comes around far too quickly!

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