Monday Morning Halfback: It's showtime
Johnathan Thurston stands on the verge of history and this is not the first time he has entered a massive game under an injury cloud, will the play style of the Broncos and Cowboys catch on, the Ipswich Jets and Newcastle Knights win their respective State titles, while the Holden Cup decider will be an all-Sydney affair.
Déjà vu for Thurston
It is the week of the 2011 Four Nations Final. The Kangaroos first training session is all but done on a typically cold and overcast day as they prepare to take on England for the title in what is Darren Lockyer's last ever game. As the TV crews are leaving to go back to the hotel to send footage back home, the Kangaroos are playing a muck- around game of soccer. Then it happens.
Johnathan Thurston goes to kick the ball and bang. He knows immediately it is not good. He calls 'Chicken' at the top of his lungs in anguish and frustration, quickly making his way from the field. Chicken is the nickname of Australian and North Queensland physiotherapist Steve Sartori. Thurston has strained his groin and is virtually no chance of playing in the final. Somehow, none of the media get wind of the story and the Kangaroos want to make sure the England team has no idea that Thurston is injured, let alone next to no chance of playing. He can barely break out into a jog for the rest of the week and is quarantined from the team. Daly Cherry-Evans is on standby.
But due to his competitive nature, Thurston refuses to be ruled out of the match in the famous green and gold and alongside good mate Lockyer in his swansong game. Not only does he play, he stars. With the game on the line deep in the second half, Thurston sets up a break and finishes the try that ultimately decides the contest. He kicks five from five conversions and is awarded Man of the Match. It's something that has stuck with me ever since. By rights, he shouldn't have even been jogging. He is the ultimate competitor.
So here we are again, on the eve of arguably the biggest game in Thurston's career. And he has a possible groin concern, something he has been carrying and was noticeably struggling with towards the end of his side's preliminary final win over the Storm in Melbourne. Thurston has literally done it all. He's won a Grand Final, World Cups, Four Nations and won more State of Origin series than most players have had games.
But this is the one he wants so badly. This is the one thing critics will tell you is missing from his esteemed resume. Winning an NRL Grand Final as the general, as the leader, bringing the crown to North Queensland for the very first time. He had one chance back in 2005, it's taken him a decade to get another shot. There is no way a groin complaint is going to stop him, he is too competitive, too stubborn, too focussed on something that has eluded him for so long. Can the Broncos stop him?
It is said that teams try to replicate and copy the successful premiership winning teams. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It is why there is so much intrigue around this Broncos v Cowboys decider - they both favour high tempo, attacking football. It is something which hasn't really been in vogue since the Wests Tigers' dramatic surge to the title in 2005.
The Cowboys pass the ball more than any team in the competition with a massive average of 245 per game. They also have the most support runners in the league, the most metres after contact and the most line breaks.
The Broncos also play a unique style of footy, they are 12th in the NRL for hit-up runs, 14th for hit-up metres and in the battle for the ruck they are the worst team in the competition. But this doesn't faze them, as they play an up tempo style of play and don't worry about the ruck as much as the other teams. For the Broncos it is all about their defensive live, no matter where they are on the field.
So who will win the Grand Final and will they be copied?
There are a few problems. To copy the Broncos, you need to have the skills of Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford, the experience and ability of Darius Boyd, the great punch from Andrew McCullough and the fitness and pace of the Broncos forwards.
Conversely, if you want to imitate the Cowboys, there is the obvious problem of trying to recreate the once in a generation Johnathan Thurston, the speed of Michael Morgan, the unbelievably tough lines and motors of the unheralded North Queensland second row, not to mention an international front row who lay the platform for it all.
Both teams play great attacking footy and we'd love more teams to adopt their style of play, but sometimes it is easier said than done. Sit back and get ready for an absolute blockbuster on the grandest stage of them all, it should be one of the great deciders.
Ipswich Jets Walking on sunshine
The Walker brothers' revolution has led Ipswich Jets to Intrust Super Cup glory with a dramatic 32-20 victory over the Townsville Blackhawks at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
It was the Jets first title in 33 seasons in the Queensland Cup and Brisbane competitions.
Knights go one better
Newcastle have won the VB NSW Cup with a 20-10 victory over the Wyong Roos in a sometimes spiteful encounter at Parramatta Stadium, making up for their NSW Cup Grand Final loss last season to the Panthers.
The win means Newcastle will clash with the Ipswich Jets in the NRL State Championship at ANZ Stadium on NRL Grand Final Day at ANZ Stadium.
Good luck girls
Women's rugby league will be recognised at the Dally M awards on Monday night with a Female Player of the Year set to be crowned for the first time.
Jillaroos captain Steph Hancock has been nominated for the prestigious Female Player of the Year award alongside Australian teammates five-eighth Jenni-Sue Hoepper, winger Karina Brown and lock Simaima Taufa.
It is great recognition for their efforts and how far the women's game has come. Good luck to all the girls, they are all worthy candidates.
Australia win in Port Moresby
The Australian Prime Minister's XIII overcame a committed PNG side to win their clash 40-10 in Port Moresby on Saturday night.
More than 18,000 fans were on hand for the clash.
Coach Ivan Cleary had called for the Australian team to soak up the experience and opportunity and not let their mates down, and the Australians delivered.
"I thought it was a great experience for all our boys, particularly a lot of the young guys," said Cleary.
All NSW Holden Cup Grand Final
Two Sydney teams have saved NSW from total embarrassment on grand final day, with the Manly Sea Eagles set to clash with the Penrith Panthers in the Holden Cup Grand Final. Interestingly, Nathan Cleary who has been the Panthers halfback all season is unlikely to play after he captained Australia in the Schoolboys game against New Zealand on Saturday. Cleary has no regrets about his decision, saying the chance to play for Australia was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Panthers coach Cameron Ciraldo believes he has the players to cover the loss of Cleary and get the job done against the Sea Eagles.