NRL Grand Final preview: Roosters v Sea Eagles
Panellists Jason Stevens, Daniel Lane and Brad Walter preview the big match on Sunday with insights, analysis and fearless predictions.PT22M34S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2uz89 620 349 October 4, 2013
IF you are a supporter of the Sea Eagles or the Roosters, 2013 has not been an ''anus horribilus'' - ''a shit of a year'', as comedian Dave Hughes described the season of Essendon, the AFL club punished for the use of supplements.
Essendon's NRL drugs equivalent, the Sharks, endured a similarly tortured year, battered by sackings, reinstatements and threats of relocation.
Souths supporters were also bitterly disappointed, their team failing again in the penultimate game, this time without the excuse of an injured halfback.
A very good year: The Roosters can add grand final glory to their minor premiership on Sunday. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Nor are the grand final teams, the old silvertails and the new silvertails, especially popular. Many fans hope both teams lose on Sunday.
It hasn't been a good year for the NRL, which saw crowds fall by 2.9 per cent and TV ratings plummet, including a fall of 10 per cent at Fox Sports. Blowouts have been one factor, with 32 games in 2013 decided by more than 30 points, compared with 18 the previous year.
Yet there is a curious phenomenon at play: digital numbers have been astronomic. An increasing number of people are watching NRL games and visiting websites via mobile phone and tablet, forever checking scores and stats.
Centre stage: Centres have arguably become as important as the traditional 'spine' positions - and there have been none better than Manly's Jamie Lyon. Photo: Anthony Johnson
It may be a reflection of the short attention span generation but these are young fans and therefore good news for the NRL.
In fact, Gillon McLachlan, the AFL executive who turned down the NRL's top job now occupied by Dave Smith, described the NRL as a ''renovator's dream''.
It's the type of superior, arrogant comment we can expect from the AFL but it does point to the promise of rugby league.
Next year poses challenges. The best players in the NRL will have spent six weeks at the World Cup in England.
They will return in early December and begin training some time in January, followed by a Nines tournament, a kick-off in early March and another fiercely fought State of Origin series. If some of the top players, such as the Storm trio of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, were showing signs of burnout towards the end of this season, it could be worse next year.
Significantly, one player showing no sign of fatigue is Manly centre Jamie Lyon. Lyon stood down from representative football years ago and it shows. The 34-year-old skipper could deliver Manly their third premiership in six years and also win the Clive Churchill medal.
I once joined him in his home town of Wee Waa, where the locals said his grandfather was a ''river banker'', meaning a person who camped on the banks of the Namoi.
If Manly are paying him what he deserves, he has gone from river banker to Macquarie banker in two generations.
Coaches refer to the players wearing jumper numbers 1, 6, 7 and 9 as the spine of a team, yet I would argue centres have become equally important, especially with teams split into left and right sides.
Sure, the fullback makes the extra man, the halves either side of the ruck decide the direction of the ball and the hooker establishes the momentum in the middle of the field. But a team with a strike centre can wreak havoc.
Lyon spearheads Manly's right side attack and he will terrorise the Roosters' side defended by James Maloney, the NSW five-eighth successfully targeted by Queensland in Brisbane.
The Roosters are better around the ruck but the Manly forwards are not as fatigued as they pretend and will have a nine-day break going into the decider.
With plenty of sting in the 'tails, they won't start as badly as they did against Souths.
The hundreds of thousands of fans who wanted to see the Rabbitohs in the grand final won't care if the result is decided by a video referee error. However, the NRL administration must face up to the number of times in the play-offs where the officials erred: a seven-tackle try to the Sharks; two disallowed tries to the Storm; an embarrassing inconsistency between a try awarded to a Manly winger against Cronulla and one denied to Souths' George Burgess against Manly.
The Roosters dominated the Knights in the preliminary grand final but the turning point was a try in the first half from a blatant forward pass. There is something radically wrong with the decision-making when commentators, many of whom had distinguished playing and coaching careers, are equivocal when it comes to declaring a try, lest they be wrong.
League has come a long way since 1978, a season also marred by controversial refereeing and a seven-tackle try, with Manly the ultimate premiers.
It was an ''anus horribilus'' and people deserted the game because it had a horrible smell. That's not so now, but fans can be similarly turned off games that are decided by lottery in the video referee's box.