And so to Bokarina’s Sunshine Coast Stadium for the first night of the fights: Qualifying Final #1, Melbourne Storm and Manly Warringah Sea Eagles.
The big dogs are butting heads. It’ll be high-octane physical and psychological warfare.
The shit, as they say, is about to get real.
For this is it: heavyweight time. Forget the rest. Forget Parra. Forget the Knights. The Titans? Please. Forget even Souths and the Chooks. There’s a standout, tip-top top-3 at the top of the tree, and Roosters and Bunnies are just clinging on outside the nest.
So yes – finals footy. Desperate and skilled footy. And it’s going to be brutal.
Because Storm are brutes. They beat the desperate (if not as skilled) Cronulla Sharks last weekend without Cameron Munster, Christian Welch, Felise Kaufusi, George Jennings, Reimis Smith, Tom Eisenhuth and the Bromwich brothers, Jesse and Kenneath, who spells his first name, in my opinion, quite incorrectly.
The Sea Eagles, meanwhile – though who knows who Des Hasler‘s actually going to trot out come kick-off – welcome back Curtis Sironen and Josh Aloiai. And they are fine players. And Manly’s in shit-hot form. And confidence is high. And a few other things we’ll get to in good time.
But my – Melbourne Storm. They are the testing material. They are hard people. They look physically superior. Stronger. Faster. Used to be a show called The Six Million Dollar Man about Steve Austin (Lee Majors) who was “a man barely alive” whom NASA, or someone, rebuilt with special robot bits called “bionics” and he had a really strong arm and two very fast legs, and a bionic eye like a telescope, and each week he’d get in adventures and throw bad guys around, and run very fast.
The Melbourne Storm are nothing like Steve Austin. However, they are extremely good at rugby league. And, for mine, it’ll be an upset if Manly beat em.
But not that much of an upset.
How do you beat ’em?
Go at them from all angles.
Contest every play. They will. That’s their thing.
In defence, go until you can’t. Scrap and rip and tear. That’s Melbourne’s thing, too.
So match them in those effort areas.
And then, with the ball, that’s right:
Give it to Tommy.
Tom Trbojevic could run through the Green Bay Packers at the minute. But there’s got to be more. There must be threats on the extremities, near and far. The near ones they call the right and left “edge”. Where the halves go with the fullback to link with the backrowers and centres. Manly must run and ran at these edges, in droves, and set their big yin free.
Very, very pleased it’s acknowledged that Kieran Foran is key to Trbojevic’s ridiculous form run. Hasler, a master of men, has Foran playing Foz Ball again, as Bobby Fulton knew he could. The 31-year-old No.6 goes to the line, direct, and takes the shots. The defence must go to him. Then he’s feeding his men nearby. Big Turbo Tommy doesn’t need more than a scintilla of space and time, and he’s gone, running, dominating, a destroyer of worlds.
On the far edges the Sea Eagles can throw leaping Jason Saab at Josh Addo-Carr‘s replacement Isaac Lumelume, a Fiji Test man. Do the same with Reuben Garrick to George Jennings.
That’s right, you read correctly: No Addo-Carr for them. Big out.
Had a bet with a man on the Twitters this week, no idea if it will ever happen. But there’s six-pack riding on the hundred metre sprint between Addo-Carr and Saab. Reckon it’d be close. I backed the Fox. We shall, hopefully, one day, when all this virus hoopla that’s running our lives is done, see that race. You see people fight each other occasionally. Why can’t the NRL clubs do a match-race? Bill Mordey would’ve put up a purse. Who’s the version of him today?
So, yes, test the Storm on the extremities.
But up guts, too. Starting dummy-half Karl Lawton is good on his feet, has a bit of footy in him, as they say. Nothing to stop, also, Daly Cherry-Evans, having a sniping dart at the lumbering, back-peddling Nelson Asofa-Solomona, for one. Nothing to stop Foz and Tommy and Dylan Walker either. Storm are tough. They are but men.
Yet such are Melbourne’s riches, that great big bastard Nelson comes fresh off the bench. So does one of the game’s top-4 hookers in Harry Grant. So does Nicho Hynes. That’s a bloody good XVII you can’t fit those people into the run-on.
And the more you look at them on the digital screen, you see not only hard, fast and physical bastards but smart, canny, cynical big pricks, too. They will slow it down if required. Shut down space. Own space where no-one can hear you scream.
And then when they they have the ball they’ll sluice through the guts with their little nippers – Brandon Smith, Jahrome Hughes, Ryan Papenhuyzen – before flinging it left or right for crazy Munster to do his thing and set his piss-bolters free.
So yes. Melbourne are good. This much we can concede.
But Manly are good, too.
And can win, don’t worry. Because the players aren’t worrying.
How about Andrew Webster’s column in Friday’s Herald? According to his “spies” at Twin Waters Resort on the Sunshine Coast (Manly media raconteur Wayne Cousins, my tip), the Sea Eagles players “look like they’re on holidays, lazing around the pool, some of them sucking on vapes, without a care in the world and certainly not daunted about taking on the defending premiers in the first week of the finals”.
“You can take the boys out of Manly,” wrote Webster, “but you can’t take Manly out of the boys.
“Nor can you take it out of Des Hasler.”
Who is to argue.
Storm by 4.