Coaches showdown: clipboards at 10 paces
Rugby league loves a showdown. Like David Boon loved a 30-hour flight between Sydney and London, used to catch up on his reading apparently.
This weekend the greatest game of all is spoilt for choice.
Roosters v Panthers. The cashed up latte set of Sydney's east versus the no-frills Nescafe instant brigade from the foot of the mountains.
Followed by Cowboys v Broncos. The star-studded cattle rustlers taking on the bucking Broncos in a Queensland derby that's going to be bigger than a free XXXX give away.
Rounded out on the Sunday by the Storm v Bulldogs. The 2012 grand final combatants in one of those games that just has 'finals grind' graffitied all over it.
And for all the action on the pitch and in the stands, the battles taking place in the coaches box is not without their intrigue either.
Trent Robinson v Ivan Cleary
The 2013 Dally M Coach of the Year goes up against the man who's at just about unbackable odds to take out this year's gong. With Robinson having guided the Chooks to back-to-back minor premiership in his first two years as coach – becoming the first man to do so since Ian Walsh took charge of an all conquering St. George outfit in 1966-67 – the 37-year-old can write his own cheque when it comes to negotiating his next deal at Roosters HQ.
And he deserves nothing less having delivered the club to the position it's currently in from 11th and 13th placed finishes the previous two years.
It's a transformation matched only by that which Cleary, along with rugby guru Gus Gould and a tireless board, has conjured across town at Penrith. In three years Cleary has taken the Panthers from basket case to worthy top four finishers, guiding them into the semis this year despite an injury toll that threatens to reach biblical proportions and a roster lacking the twinkling stars that adorn every other outfit in this year's finals.
Saturday's clash will be the fourth time the two have come together, with Robinson's men having delivered a 3-0 advantage, with an average score line of 34-8 in favour of the Tricolours. Cleary will also be out to improve a 4-6 record in semis footy during his five years at the Warriors, a scenario that will only be improved by inflicting Robinson's first ever finals loss, after the Chooks went 3-0 last year.
Paul Green v Anthony Griffin
Green is in the first year of what looks to be a very rosy arrangement between club and coach up in Townsville, while Griffin could well be carrying the maroon and gold clipboard for the last time as an up-and-down reign at Red Hill comes to a close.
The Cowboys mentor, who turns 42 on Friday, has been a revelation since arriving in the tropics and turning the place upside down, with North Queensland's talent-laden roster singing from the same hymn sheet and sounding sweeter than they have in quite some time.
Recently retired centre Brent Tate believes Green's rapidly rising stocks will see him taking charge of the Maroons at some point in his lifetime, not a bad rap given Tate played 23 games for Queensland and knows a bit about Origin.
Griffin's career meanwhile has hit a bit of a speed bump, roughly about the same height and slender width as super coach Wayne Bennett. With the prodigal mentor on his way back to Brisbane, Griffin will be winding up with the Broncs even if he takes them all the way to a seventh club title.
Regardless of whether Griffin bows out come full time on Saturday or in a month from now, he'll do so with head held high and the support of a doting playing group, many of whom Griffin has delivered right from under-20's to the top flight. A scenario that will see his charges be desperate to send Griffin out a winner, lobbing a few eggs toward the faces of the board that have ousted him with a year to run on his current contract in the process.
Des Hasler v Craig Bellamy
"Ah, we meet again, Mr. Bellamy."
Des Hasler has done the dance with Melbourne counterpart Craig Bellamy more times than he's had hot dinners, with the ledger currently favouring the Dogs coach 14-10. These two are the crème de la crème as far as the modern mentors go, winning five of the past seven grand finals, and ensuring at least one of their sides has made an appearance on the biggest stage in the competition in all bar two deciders since 2006.
Hasler has been up to his old tricks in the media this week, deflecting attention from the fact his blue and white's have won one of their last eight outings, and have only posted more than 20 points once – against the Wests Tigers’ turnstile defence – in that two-month period. His recent record against Bellamy makes for much better reading; Hasler's teams have come out on top in their last three clashes, to the rather emphatic tune of a combined 85 points to 16.
Bellamy however holds the advantage over his lusciously locked sparring partner in the games that count most, with Melbourne beating Hasler's Manly and Bulldogs outfits (34-8 in 2007 and 14-4 in 2012) for two grand final victories to one (the 40-0 triumph of Hasler's Sea Eagles over the Storm in 2008). When it comes to preparing a side for finals footy Bellamy is streets ahead of every other coach lining up this weekend, his 17-9 win-loss record far superior to the next-best, 10-8, of Hasler.