There’s a glorious smell in the air right now. We’ve turned the corner out of winter’s coldest months and there’s a sweet scent on the breeze. It’s almost intoxicating. It’s the smell of September and it only means one thing… Finals time!
For our teams it means that there is only one thing that matters. Win this week. Win and stay alive, just give yourself a chance. Who knows what the next week will bring.
It’s a time of year when there’s a true buzz around the league community. Who’ll make it and who won’t. It’s a time when talk counts for nothing and actions mean everything. It is where all the hard work players have put in over the punishing pre-season, through to the final few rounds of regular competition can make or break a team.
When my women’s league team made the finals back in 2010, I was thrilled, excited and proud, but I was also scared. It wasn’t lack of ability that frightened me, far from it… but the fact that every game could be our last. What would happen if we didn’t turn up on the day or vital refereeing calls went against us? It would all be over. Just like that… but you can’t have thoughts like that going through your head. I swear that once you reach a finals series, everything is heightened; emotions, effort and senses. I’ll never forget the feeling of sitting in the sheds before a final… or the smell of the freshly cut grass, deep heat, tape and our freshly washed jerseys. It makes me feel slightly nervous just thinking about it.
Spare a thought for how NRL players would be feeling right now as they near the end of the regular season. This year the competition is wide open and a number of teams are still in the race to make the top eight. Even the Storm has awoken from its slumber with the promise of warmer weather and the gentle waft of barbecues hanging in the air...
Something that excites me most about finals footy is seeing a player become a hero on the big stage. The player that delivers that knockout blow to get their team through. It’s these heroes who we remember and talk about for years to come. Cast your memory back to the 2003 grand final between the Panthers and Roosters, when Scott Sattler made that phenomenal tackle on Todd Byrne to turn the game on its head. At the time of that historic play, both sides were locked at six-all. After Sattler took Byrne out…the Roosters didn’t score another point. The Panthers went on to win 18-6.
How about when Roosters captain Braith Anasta took the team from rags to riches with that stunning field goal right on the buzzer…securing the chooks a golden point win over the Wests Tigers. It was undoubtedly the play of 2010… and the kick of Anasta’s life. Or when Shaun Johnson set up the match-winner for the Warriors last year. It was a play that broke the hearts of Storm fans and booked New Zealand a place in the grand final.
But one of my all-time favourite moments would have to be when Broncos captain Darren Lockyer slotted that field goal three minutes into golden point to defeat the Dragons 13-12. Oh, and he did it with a broken jaw. No biggie.
And finally, what about Parramatta in 2009? Plenty jumped on that bandwagon after the Eels won seven in a row, eventually making it to the big one against Melbourne. Jarryd Hayne was the great blue and gold hope and made the field his personal dance floor with moves everyone watched and no one could emulate. It's just a shame Melbourne were caught rorting the salary cap.
The Eels, Warriors and Roosters have all proven in recent years that it’s possible to make it to the decider if you just make the finals. That never say die attitude and the self-belief they exuded at a time when it really mattered… got them there. They have all proven in recent years that you just need to win this week and give yourself a chance. Just win one more game and who knows, you might just find your way to rugby league’s grandest stage.
Who’ll do it this year? I seriously can’t wait to find out.
But it is not only special for players, this is the time of year that fans live for. Not since the ‘70s have we seen Rabbitohs fans so happy. They hardly know themselves. The club has overcome a slow start to the season to fire themselves into second spot on the ladder after beating the Gold Coast at the weekend. It has the Bunnies faithful certain they’re on track for their first premiership in 41 years. It’ll be one hell of a party if they win it.
Sharks fans don’t know what it’s like to win a premiership, but they had a taste of success back in 2008 when they finished equal first with Melbourne and Manly before being bundled out of the preliminary final 28-nil by the Storm. But they have every right to feel excited about their chances this year, especially after they completely shellacked the Warriors when they needed to most. And while there have been plenty of naysayers writing these boys off, their blue blooded fans know they’re the real deal this year.
The race to the finals is wide open and fans of all teams can be excited. Just one more win, that’s all it takes. Win tomorrow and who knows what could happen from there. Just give yourself a chance and ultimate glory could be yours.
Bring on September.