Bulldogs boy? How Hindmarsh 'jumped the fence'
Grand final day in the lounge room of the Hindmarsh household in the 1980s was always a tense affair. In a family of Parramatta supporters, one lone voice stubbornly refused to back the blue-and-golds and barracked for the Mortimers and Hughes’ of Canterbury.<br><br>“Yeah, I was a Canterbury fan growing up and the rest of the family were Eels fans,” star Eels back-rower Nathan Hindmarsh admits sheepishly. “So I had a few run-ins with the brother on grand final day.”<br><br>Their farmhouse, in the southern highlands town of Robertson, was not alone in bristling with tension and celebration whenever the Eels and Bulldogs battled in the decider during a golden era for both clubs in the 1980s. And come Friday night the air will once again be thick with apprehension as grand finals come a week early for fans in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.<br><br>Recreating some of the most memorable grand finals will be the Eels and Bulldogs, both with a point to prove after the disappointment of 2008, while recent history shows the Storm-Broncos Qualifying Final will also be a blockbuster.<br><br>Melbourne still remember the pain of their first season at the top in 2006 when they streaked away with the minor premiership, only to be run down by Wayne Bennett’s immaculate grand final record, sending Shane Webcke out with a fairytale ending to his career.<br><br>Last season the Storm got their revenge however, when they bumped Brisbane from the premiership race with a spectacular comeback victory which left Darren Lockyer utterly distraught, and Bennett’s career with the Broncos over.<br><br>While the Bulldogs-and-Eels grand final history stretches back more than two decades, the Storm and Broncos have created a conflict recently which always emerges during the finals.<br><br>Melbourne boast a number of Queenslanders in their team, and their coach Craig Bellamy served his apprenticeship under Bennett at Brisbane. All the sub-plots are not lost on Broncos’ forward Corey Parker, who experienced the grand final victory in 2006.<br><br>“I think it goes without saying that there’s a pretty good rivalry between Brisbane and Melbourne over a number of years,” he confirms. “You’ll never forget a grand final win, and certainly I won’t, but with Melbourne and us it’s just two competitive teams coming up against each other. At the end of the day that’s what you play footy for and it should be a great occasion.”<br><br>North of the Murray, the focus will be less on the current crop of players and more on the stars of yesteryear. While the Bulldogs have experienced grand final success this decade, there is no doubt the 1980s are still revered as the most lucrative for the club, and their greatest rivals were the Eels. Both clubs won four premierships and in the two deciders they contested it was even with a win each.<br><br>However, it was more than just grand final day when the rivalry lived between these two great clubs for former Canterbury halfback Steve Mortimer.<br><br>“It wasn’t even just the grand finals, it was the preliminary finals and even playing at Cumberland Oval and Belmore when we shared the tenancy there for a number of years,” he recalls.<br><br>“They were always going to be hard games and there were times Parramatta were the benchmark and if we came away and we won, it was great. If we came away with a loss we knew we’d been beaten by a very classy outfit.<br><br>“Yeah, you didn’t need to be motivated, with the likes of Sterling, Kenny, Grothe, Cronin, Price and Stevie Ella… the list goes on.”<br><br>The significance of the game at ANZ Stadium will only be heightened if Mortimer’s nephew Daniel can overcome a hip injury and take the field – albeit for the other team.<br><br>“If Daniel gets a chance to play I hope he has a great game… but I hope the Bulldogs win,” Mortimer adds.<br><br>While the legends will be soaking up the re-emergence of lost memories and countless reunions this week, for the current players this game holds the same pressure as one of those grand finals.<br><br>“We keep turning up, I wouldn’t say we’re always enjoying it though!” laughs Hindmarsh. “It’s never a nice feeling having to try and win these sorts of games – pressure footy. <br><br>“Next week doesn’t really count if we lose. We’re playing for the grand final, you might as well have finished eighth or not make the finals if you don’t make the grand final. It’s another pressure game… but we’re going alright.”<br><br>Parramatta captain Nathan Cayless still struggles to comprehend the turnaround in his team’s season. Looking like possible wooden spooners earlier in the year, the Eels stalwart is ecstatic to be one win from a grand final.<br><br>“There will be a lot passion, there will be a lot of talk, so it’s going to be very enjoyable,” he offers.<br> <br>“Halfway through the year we were working very hard but now you’ve just got to pinch yourself. It’s a credit to the boys, they showed a lot of commitment to work hard – and that’s why we are here. We worked hard and really committed to each other.”<br><br>The Broncos have experienced a similar resurgence in their charge to October. Since their darkest day in Round 21 when they lost 56-0 to the Raiders, Brisbane have not lost a game. Parker knows this weekend, in the penultimate game of the season, Brisbane and Melbourne will not leave anything to chance.<br><br>“It’s do-or-die, a grand final qualifier. It’s going to be a big game,” Parker says. <br><br>“I think the game you saw [against the Dragons] had every aspect of [being grand final quality] and there’s no reason why next week won’t be either. It’s just a matter of hanging in there, playing tough and hoping for a win.”<br><br>In divided lounge rooms this weekend wide-eyed kids will still be watching and fighting over their heroes, in one of the biggest finals weekends the NRL will ever witness.<br>