Willie Mason is one of nine 'Oldcastle' players on the wrong side of 30 - can supercoach Wayne Bennett get them to drink from the fountain of youth before Saturday night's elimination showdown with Melbourne? Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Can you smell that? It’s September. Spring has arrived in all its glory but more importantly another season is about to end. Finals football is here. Hope is blooming for the handful of clubs still in the hunt for silverware, while jerseys and grand final tickets are being sold hand over fist for fans cashing in on a year’s worth of yelling “get ’em onside!”. The rest are either sunning themselves on holiday or muttering bitterly about conspiracy theories and wondering how difficult it is to count to six.
I can’t think of another workplace outside the major sporting codes including the NRL where if you haven’t performed well enough, you get to go on an early holiday.
It’s unlikely my boss would call me into his office in September and say, “Hey Yvonne, you were awful this year. You really underperformed and let thousands of people down.” (Actually, that last part COULD happen; it’s just the next bit that’s unlikely.) “So management have decided you should take the next two months off to travel and relax. We’ll see you in November.” Jackpot!
When in actual fact my annual leave negotiations go something along the lines of: “Hey, can I please have holidays?” Boss: “Of course – as long as it’s not during the NRL, AFL, Super Rugby, A League, representative football, surfing or spring racing seasons. And you must be back before the cricket starts.”
Don’t get me wrong – I love my job. But I can’t imagine being granted early holidays – that start with a drinking session where all my mates dress up as superheros or women – simply because I didn’t meet expectations set down at the start of the year.
Now for all the lucky ducks still going around in September: be careful what you wish for. After a knee-jerk reaction from Neil Henry’s sacking, the Cowboys went on a winning spree to find themselves carrying Queensland’s hopes into the top eight. Now, I’m not going to indulge in the seventh-tackle debate or conspiracy theory, but for the second straight year North Queensland were cruelled in their finals bid by a refereeing howler, while the Sharks live to fight another day – which on the face of it remarkable given the ASADA drama.
So now Cronulla get the privilege of Friday Night (finals) Football against Manly, who are coming off a punishing 4-nil grind against the Roosters in the lowest-scoring finals match in 21 years. The Sea Eagles will still be in a foul mood after a fruitless and gruelling 80 minutes last Saturday. Could a week stewing over missed chances against the Chooks make Manly more twisted? Or have Cronulla saved their best until last, and will we see a mauling like a scene from ‘Sharknado’ at Allianz Stadium on Friday night?
That brings us to the Storm and Knights in Melbourne on Saturday night. The reigning Premiers with talent to burn could easily be plotting another premiership, they just need to eliminate the Knights. Easy? Nope.
Dubbed ‘Oldcastle’ with nine players over the age of 30 on the roster and the grandfather of rugby league supremacy at the helm Wayne Bennett, the Knights need not worry about the ‘Dad’s Army’ quips. Experience is priceless in finals football. Melbourne are odds on to move into the preliminary finals and probably deserve to be at the big dance on October 6th, but Bennett isn’t known as the supercoach for nothing. He’ll have something up his sleeve for Novocastrians to believe in on Saturday night.
So the Roosters and the long-suffering Rabbitohs are only one game away from a Grand Final spot. Should they meet in the GF, we were already tantalised with a peep-show when they played for the minor premiership and no-one left disappointed. Fans from both sides of the tracks filled ANZ Stadium in another blood-curdling rivalry that has been over 100 years in the making. The latte-sippers up against the South Sydney scrappers: wouldn’t that be a show worth watching! We’ll just have to wait and see.