'THEY obviously want an all-Sydney club grand final,'' one NRL club official texted immediately after the Sea Eagles' controversial victory over the Cowboys a week ago.
''They'', of course, is the NRL. Despite a new commission running the game, conspiracy theories about Sydney's rule of the game persist, particularly outside the New South Wales capital.
Canberra's subsequent exit fuelled the ''they sayers'' and if Melbourne loses tonight against Manly on dubious decisions by the video referees, an all-Sydney grand final will excite the conspiracy theorists.
The truth is the top four teams at the end of the home-and-away season made the final four positions in the play-offs.
The Sea Eagles were certainly advantaged by one potentially match-turning decision, but you can't claim former Manly boss Ken Arthurson still pulls the strings at headquarters.
If the conspiracy theorists want a puppet master, look in the direction of Manly coach Geoff Toovey.
It is a source of frustration for other NRL coaches that Toovey vents his fury in post-game press conferences and wins a better deal.
If the conspiracy theorists have a case, it exists with the Storm and the old administration of ex-NRL chief executive David Gallop. Gallop wanted a turnover of teams in the grand final to demonstrate the salary cap was working. He wouldn't have relished coming to Melbourne tonight.
Then there is the Storm's salary cap breaches. Melbourne has now made two successive preliminary finals after being forced to play a season for no points.
If it wins tonight, surely this is a victory for forces other than the salary cap, unless you accept the argument privately owned Souths and Manly are also cheating and the Bulldogs and Storm have learnt nothing from the savage penalties against them for past breaches.
How about superior coaching as a factor? Melbourne's Craig Bellamy and Canterbury's Des Hasler, formerly with Manly, have now appeared in five of the past six preliminary finals.
Should the Bulldogs defeat South Sydney tomorrow night, Hasler will be against either his old club or his old opponent in the grand final.
Hasler and Bellamy were head coaches to Toovey and Souths' Michael Maguire, respectively.
Doesn't this imply trophies are won as much by coaching systems as financial subterfuge? More by hard work than cold cash?
Furthermore, a Storm victory would raise the question whether stripping the club of two premierships was justified.
This is why the comments of former Sea Eagles captain Max Krilich were not received well in Melbourne.
Krilich said the Storm players should also have been forced to return their premiership rings.
Why a former Manly premiership captain would seemingly give more motivation to Melbourne should fuel another conspiracy theory.