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17 Dec

Up Front with Tony Butterfield

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SINGit with me now …

“Whether you’re on the cricket ground, Lang Park or the bush, you still gotta run, you still gotta tackle and the scrums have got the same push. Uhhh. You give it some, you give some more, you really give your all, playing rugby league football, it’s the greatest game of all.”

And so the old footy anthem goes,less on-point these days with the “scrum” and “push” business mind you, but a classic just the same. Like Bing Crosby and Slim Dusty at Christmas time, it’ll get a start this Sunday.

BIGGER THAN CHRISTMAS: Other than winning Powerball, is there anything better than rugby league’s grand final day? Picture: AAP

For league tragics, grand final day is the biggest of the sporting year. Privileged myself to have been to the big dance on fouroccasions (including two in reserve grade and one with the under-23s), I recall most fondly the surge of energy on arrival at the stadium.

Silent eyes behind dark glasses scanning, soaking up the sheer scale and movement of the occasion. Before you know it, following the leader, you descend into the bowels of the enormous concrete catacomb, and the relative cool, calm and quiet of your dressing-room, and familiar faces.

Before long, your gear stowed and “problems” strapped, you can’t wait to take that practice walk down the tunnel into a glorious, cavernous buzz of electricity and light. A cautious quick step out onto the turf for the superstitious or a scan for the family before grabbing a seat on the bench.

Taking a breath to drink it all in, you suddenly realise:“I’ve made it. As planned”

Pretty soon though, for me, the distractions became overwhelming and it’s back to the sanctuary of the dressing-room. Let’s get this season decided!

Win or lose, arare and cathartic experience at the personal level and a just reward for any group prepared put in and work harder, longer and smarter for each other than anyone else.

And so, to the season’s ultimate test. Where once we had 16, now there are two.

Only one will be deliriously triumphant. The other racked with devastation and despair, and perhaps some regrets – as has been the way of seriously rough sport sinceNero was a boy.

Not to be confused with the majority that have no horse in this race, the mob, and the players will draw from the physicality and resoluteness of the previous finals to set their thermostats.

A gladiatorial encounter for the ages is in the offing. Now, I’d like to see that.

Off the field, nothing makes for a more exciting grand final than some high drama in the lead-up.

Not the scandalous type, if it can be avoided, just good old-fashioned injuries, judiciary clearances and a few pork pies. And we’ve had that.

The Roosters need Cooper Cronk to play or they are history. If he does play I fear it will end in tears.

Catch 22 for coach Robinson …

His injury type is complex and more often debilitating once riled up. And if it does flare, and he’s left like last week to defend in the middle of an eastern suburbs freeway, brave or not, questions need to be asked.

The Slater matter is more nuanced. Did he shoulder charge? Absolutely.

Only, he defended that charge. So, how should us simple folk now describe that tackle to our kin if not as a shoulder charge?

The concept of what is and what is not a shoulder charge now eludes me, completely. As it won’t the occasional flying winger sent into orbit at local or NRL grounds on the basis it’snow OK.

Now I love Billy, but he was well positioned enough to alternately elect to drop his “gun sights”,drive his shoulder (with arms wrapped), legitimately, into the ribcage and get the same result. Indeed, I was surprised when he didn’t.

Good luck to him. In the end, it was aconfusing application of a poorly considered rule framework that has served to polarise fans on our biggest day.

What’s that about talking the game up?

Otherwise, it’s no surprise the season’s best two defensive teamshave prevailed.

That tells me how they got here, how doggedly they will contest each assignment, and, as a result, how few points will be scored in what looks the closest of contests.

As defence wins grand finals I can say with a high degree of confidence, all things being equal, this should end in a draw. LOL.

Storm by 1.

* BACK in the day, there were plenty of great grand final performers. From Norm Provan and Eddie Lumsden to Royce Simmons, Glenn Lazarus and Kevin Walters.

One such favourite for this columnist was set 40 years ago, when a 25-year-old fullback from Manly played his fourth and fifth grand final within threedays, and brainedit.

Grahame Eadie, the Woy Woy Wombat, would go on to fourpremierships from sevengrand finals, but he’ll always be remembered for dominating the grand final replay of 1978.

A grand performance if ever there was!

* MEANWHILE, Sunday is back at the ranch these days but otherwise, little has changed.

Immersing myself in the preparation phase of game day, not enough to be called a weirdo by family, of course, but with senses heightened enough to be ready for anything. Just in case the call comes, you understand.

To this day it’s a light breakfast, brisk walk, minimal banter with darling or the boys and an edginess you can’t quite put your finger on. The tortuous late start does nothing for the nerves, so you’ve got to stay busy.

Might have a crack at the lawn later. Maybe not. Trim the hedges? Nah. How’s the refreshment situation? Opps, need to do a lap. A BBQ? What guests?

Hang on. Gas? Another lap.

What time do the games start? Who knows. Oops, almost forgot the tunes.

Right, I think we’re sorted. Big day. Can’t wait.

Enjoy yours!

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