Alan Kilshaw kicks off his new TotalRL column by reliving a gripping NRL Grand Final
Last Sunday was my first experience of watching an NRL Grand Final live – and it didn’t disappoint.
The wall-to-wall coverage during the week had intensified, taking up the front and back newspaper pages and plenty of TV coverage. Much had been made of the ‘Battle of the Poms’ with Sam Burgess and his not so little brothers going up against James Graham, who was named as the front rower of the season at the NRL Daily M awards earlier in the week.
Arriving at the venue via train, with free public transport included with our tickets, there was a carnival atmosphere and the Bulldogs support was outnumbered by the huge South Sydney following.
Around the ground there was lots to do, with bars and restaurants situated around the complex, and nearer to the ground there was plenty of entertainment to suit all ages.
The game itself was played in front of 83,000 people and a worldwide TV audience delivered on all fronts.
It was fast, physical, brutal and the skill level on show under such intense pressure was a real highlight.
The Bulldogs’ error-strewn start had implications later on in the game when they ran out of gas and were unable to match Souths’ power in the closing stages. Without the steady influence of Michael Ennis in the middle of the park their last play options were rushed and disorganised, with the Bunnies taking advantage of good field position to continue to hammer away at the Bulldogs line.
After the early Rabbitohs score a real arm wrestle followed, with the Bulldogs looking short of ideas when Graham departed for a spell.
At 6-6 with a quarter remaining people were left wondering – could the unthinkable happen? The Bulldogs, who have ground out wins all year, had put themselves in the frame to score another special victory.
Souths were led by big performances from Sam Burgess, with the crowd unaware of the true extent of his facial injury, and Greg Inglis. The Bunnies finished the stronger with the scoreline blowing out a little unfairly on the Bulldogs, whose efforts of the previous three weeks had finally taken their toll.
It was a well-deserved victory, one that had come after two disappointing finals series in the last two seasons under Michael Maguire.
“Glory Glory South Sydney” rang out inside the stadium and the drought was finally over.
Sam Burgess’ inspiring performance stole the headlines but James Graham’s efforts in defeat would not be forgotten.
The event, the venue and the spectacle all lived up to the billing and it was refreshing that there was only a five minute wait for a train with thousands on the platforms – Wembley take note.
One of my players texted me after the match and summed it up perfectly: ‘Great night to be a Pom’. He wasn’t wrong, especially one living in Australia.