The spiritual leaders for the Roosters and Raiders will shoulder a lot of responsibility in Sunday's grand final, which they love.
Josh Papalii and Sio Soliola for Canberra, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner for the Roosters.
It is a battle in the middle and the winners of that contest will ultimately play a huge part in the success of their teams. Forwards win games, backs by how much. But there’s a whole lot more variables that need to happen during the game.
Never underestimate how important the start is, and I’m not talking racking up points early. This is about building confidence and belief. Both sides already have shown us the ability to hang tough, even if there’s no points scored early in the game.
Those four guys I mentioned are key to all that. Regardless of points, it’s like winning a Test match. It’s about field position, forwards battle, getting to your kick, completing sets, the start to your sets – all very important to winning.
But to set platforms, a springboard to launch your game into the positive, that’s where your spiritual leaders come in to play. The players do look to them when the game gets tough, when you need a bustling run or a quick play-the-ball to change the nature of the game.
What I’ve been impressed with, certainly where the Raiders are concerned, is the second efforts from Josh Papalii. He played 70 minutes last week against the Storm, which was outstanding, and it set that platform I’ve been speaking about.
He brings the aggression needed, trying to get his team on the front foot, help the team build momentum and give the players around him confidence – Waerea-Hargreaves can do that too.
Those big fellows getting stuck into each other and not taking a backward step know how important that is for their football team. They go off for a spell, but when they get their chance to get back on, they do it all over again.
There will be moments when you’re on top and moments when you’re struggling, with your backs against the wall. That’s where you need your spiritual leaders to produce, when your team is being challenged.
Grand finals often produce a spectacular play, or try. Both the Raiders and Roosters are chock full of players who can do this tomorrow.
It might sound silly to say this but in a grand final the pressure is off a bit because you’ve actually made it - so there’s a real sense of relief.
All you’ve done this week is prepare for this one last game. The real pressure was the week before so now you can go out and play some footy, just not worry about the outcome.
You just need to worry about the moments in the game and be prepared for them. You don’t know when they’ll come, what time, they will just present themselves and you have to make the most of that opportunity.
That’s why more than any other game, all 17 players need to contribute because that moment will present itself and everyone needs to prepare for it.
It’s really important all 17 are ready, it could be diving on a loose ball, an ankle tap, a charge down – it could be in attack or defence, you just don’t know but to win you need to able seize the moment. Losers had opportunities but don’t convert
I want to recognise Cooper Cronk and I can’t emphasise enough what an asset he’s been for rugby league. He’s been a class act both on the field and off the field. He’s been involved in nine grand finals so that gives you a fair idea of his calibre as a player.
Any teams Cooper has been involved with are winners ... from his club through to his state and country.
As a person he is unselfish, well-respected and trusted by his teammates. Luke Keary made a comment last week that Cooper just wants to help everyone to improve around him – he’ll help in any way he can to make that happen.
So while I don’t want him to go out as a winner this time, what does “winning” really mean? It means getting the best out of yourself, knowing you played your last game with no regrets.
My loyalties are obviously on the other side, so it’s hard for me to be objective with it all as I’m emotionally attached to the Raiders. I want them to win but I want Cooper to go out “a winner” which I know he already is.
I play a small part in tomorrow’s match by blowing the Viking horn. I learnt how to hit the right notes, so to speak, playing God Save the Queen on the recorder at primary school.
So I’m pretty experienced in all that, and some might say I’m used to blowing my own horn already. Everyone enjoy the game.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.