Roosters young guns itching for GF chance
Measuring how much a premiership means to a player is like trying to count all the stars in the Milky Way. Or, come Friday night, all the lights and luminaries taking the field at ANZ Stadium. Nigh on impossible.
Anthony Minichiello, Sam Burgess, Sonny Bill Williams and Ben Te'o would all dearly love to depart into the wide blue yonder of retirement or rugby union with one of those premiership rings reportedly worth a small nation's GDP.
But for two young Chooks at the other end of their rugby league careers, even getting the chance to frock up and turn out for the NRL's big ball would mean a hell of a lot.
For 22-year-old reserve forward Dylan Napa and fellow benchwarmer Isaac Liu (23), a grand final appearance – theirs with just one more win – has been a while coming.
Napa may have only made seven appearances in the red, white and blue during the Roosters' run to the 2013 decider, but he made one hell of an impression along the way. International props James Graham and Paul Gallen are still checking for the number of the big red bus that hit them at the back end of last year.
Having made a thunderous landing on the NRL scene, Napa looked set to be thrown into the grand final fray against Manly until Boyd Cordner made an eleventh hour comeback from an ankle injury.
When veteran prop Luke O'Donnell also made a surprise return from a hamstring complaint, Liu, who had played 15 games from the bench after debuting earlier in the year, joined Napa in dropping out of Trent Robinson's final 17.
Of course despite featuring in the Roosters' strong late-season surge to the minor premiership and both semi-final wins over Manly and Newcastle, the two debutants were the obvious exclusions from the star-studded Chooks side.
Cordner, while not having been sighted for seven weeks previous, had a maiden NSW Origin jumper hanging in the locker and a Kangaroos one soon on the way. O'Donnell, at 32 and with more big game experience than Liu and Napa had enjoyed hot dinners, was the experienced head the Tricolours needed coming off the pine.
Still, being left dateless a couple of days out from the big dance hurts, no matter who's taking your place.
"It did burn me in a way but I drilled into myself and needed to think about next year," Liu tells NRL.com.
"There's always next year and I can always make it next year. I just had to play harder and so far so good.
"I've played almost every game this year. It's definitely good to bounce back after last year. I'm getting really excited now and I'm past all my minor injuries and I'm looking forward to playing further in the finals series."
If Liu is 'looking forward' to his shot at the Rabbitohs this Friday and a chance to go one game further than last year, then Napa must be just about chewing his right arm off.
When he tucked that very arm into his side a month ago and shouldered Souths captain John Sutton into next week, the initial three-game suspension handed down by the match review committee had Napa staring down a second straight October long-weekend spent on the sidelines.
His subsequent appeal of the charge's grading leaves Napa free to return this Friday against the Bunnies, though not after sweating bullets throughout the premiers' desperate one-point win over the Cowboys last week.
"He's itching to get back," prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves says.
"He was texting me after the game telling me how keen he is and how stoked he was that we got through. He's been doing everything he can to stay fit and he's happy to be back."
But according to his teammates, there will be no need for a quiet word about keeping a lid on his aggression, or making sure that shoulder charge is completely out of his game.
Quite simply because Robinson has flogged him – and fellow suspended forward Aidan Guerra – up and down the training park for the last three weeks as a reminder of his alternatives should he again overstep the line between confrontational and illegal.
"He's been training on his own, or with Aidos (Guerra). You walk into the gym and you see them tasting their own backsides, you feel sorry for them, but I've been there before, I know what it's like.
"He knows what he's done, and what he's got to do to get back out there. He adds so much to our side with that go forward and that brutal defence, so I'm just happy to have him back."