If the Crusaders had been clutching at straws for extra motivation before Saturday's Super Rugby final, the Waratahs handed them a big stick on Friday.
As ticket sales surged past the magic 55,000 mark, breaking a five-year-old competition crowd record, NSW captain Michael Hooper was an hour late for a joint-captains photo opportunity at ANZ Stadium, leaving his counterpart Kieran Read to pose trophy-less for the assembled media and leave after 20 minutes.
Hooper had led his team in a captain's run at Allianz Stadium on the other side of town at 10.30am. After a longer than usual session, the NSW No.7 showered and jumped in a car to head out to Olympic Park.
Where's Michael? ... Kieran Read at ANZ Stadium on Friday. Photo: Brendan Esposito
But by the time he arrived – more than hour after the scheduled start time of 12.15pm according to witnesses – Read had been ushered away to the team's traditional pre-game lunch elsewhere.
"It couldn’t be helped," a Waratahs spokesman said. "It was just unfortunate we were late and unfortunate the Crusaders couldn’t wait. It was just one of those things. We eventually got the shot [photograph]."
Both sides played down the significance of the bungled photo opportunity, which is required under the regulations of tournament organiser SANZAR.
On his lonesome ... Michael Hooper with the Super Rugby trophy. Photo: Brendan Esposito
But there are few things as important as respect in rugby, both real and perceived. If Read was looking for the key ingredient to his pre-match wind-up, his younger counterpart may have inadvertently handed it to him.
Meanwhile, Waratahs inside centre Kurtley Beale did not complete Friday's captain's run, leaving the pitch to treat a sore shoulder. He returned towards the end of the session but returned to the sideline after a short run.
The Waratahs were confident there were no big issues with the problem joint, on which he had surgery at the end of last year, and coach Michael Cheika made no changes to the balance of his bench, sticking with a forward-heavy 6-2 split.
Returning winger Peter Betham has taken Taqele Naiyaravoro's bench spot alongside replacement halfback Brendan McKibbin.
Cheika indicated his side had plenty of their own motivation, drawing on a perception the Waratahs forwards were the minor premiers' "soft underbelly".
"I think they think we're a little bit soft," he said.
"All we can do is go out there and try to prove that wrong at the end of the day ... [but] even if we do it doesn't necessarily mean winning, either.
"That's part of a battle that's going to go on over the 80 minutes, tactically, physically, mentally."
Hooper said the Waratahs knew their dream run up the ladder this year did not mean points would be handed to them on Saturday.
"Obviously against a good Crusaders outfit, things aren't going to happen easily," he said.
"They're not going to give you ways to score tries, ways to put points on the board. You've got to be able to make opportunities, make them have errors, put your good players in good positions against maybe worse defenders ... That's something that we'll have to take into the game."