Well it's finally arrived, the Grand Final we had to have.
After 26 premiership rounds and three weeks of intense semi-final action, the 2004 Season decider will be played at League Headquarters, Homebush, in front of about 90,000 rabidly salivating, fanatical footy supporters.
In the red corner, we have the boys from the eastern fringes of our wonderful city, the Sydney Roosters. They bring a wealth of talent, experience and sentimentality to the contest. At full strength their entire run-on squad has represented their State or Nation at some point in time.
Sadly though, suspension and injury have robbed two of their forwards the chance to compete in this one, with Luke Ricketson earning a three match ban for good old-fashioned coat-hanger in last week's game, and Chris Flannery almost certain to dip-out because of a rather unsavoury testicular complication. And with the impending retirement of five-eighth Brad Fittler, the Buddha of Bondi, there will be more than a few extra sit-ups at training, harder hits in the game and the odd tear shed when the curtain is closed on his glittering career.
And in the blue corner, hailing from the inner-western province of Bankstown, the Canterbury Bulldogs. They boast hulking forwards, a finessed and crafty backline and have a sprinkle of emotion in their own right.
Whilst their rep status doesn't read as long as their rivals, a carefully structured and balanced team exists benefiting from an uncompromising forward pack lead by Mark O'Meley, Willie Mason and Andrew Ryan. With Sonny-Bill Williams and Roy Asotasi entering the fray at various points during the game, the Bulldogs rarely lose momentum and usually increase the tempo as the game unfolds. Hazem El Masri virtually ensures each try scored is worth six points and with the departure of long-serving captain Steven Price, there will be sixteen other men who will be hell-bent on sending him to Auckland with a premiership ring.
Then there are the coaches. You couldn't do much more in Rugby League than Ricky Stuart. He played an astonishing amount of footy at halfback for Canberra and Canterbury at club level securing 3 premierships, plus numerous games and milestones for NSW and Australia. He is now coaching his team in their third Grand Final in a row, after beating New Zealand in 2002 and losing a very memorable one to Penrith in 2003. Not bad going for a guy who had a year in Premier League at Canterbury before taking up the job with the Tri-Colours.
His rival must be having a few funny thoughts about the whole matter. Steve Folkes, a hard man and fitness freak whose League accolades come close to Stuart's on the field, must be finding the situation a little ironic. Having never won a premiership as a mentor, he now faces the man he coached up until 2000 at Canterbury. He then handed Stuart the reserve grade role at the Club in 2001, before the former stand-off sighted a gap in the Eastern Suburbs and headed for the beach. It's amusing how intermingled the League fraternity can be at times.
Yes, this optical spectacular will impress more than those midgets in Cirque Du Soleil, flow faster than the mighty Snowy River in it's day and hit harder than southerly in May. And this year we have a new ringmaster in the game�referee Tim Mander.
Thanks to the retirement of Hollywood Bill at the end of last year, League has found itself in the unfamiliar position of other referee's submitting their resumes for consideration. Timmy had some stiff competition from Paul Simpkins and Sean Hampstead though, with the latter possessing excellent credentials on the small screen, starring for years in comedy shows such as Black Adder and the Adventures of Mr Bean. But with 261 first grade games, 6 Tests and 4 World Cup matches under his belt, the 43 year-old Mander should be well and truly up to the task.
Whether the Norm and Arthur head east, or slightly west this year, one thing is for sure�this game is going to be an absolute bellringer which will have the stadium pulsating from it's very core. And whilst not every League fan wanted these two teams to fight it out for the privilege of calling themselves "the best" it's shaping as an encounter of Gargantuan proportions.
And just for the record, I think the Doggies by 4. Bring it on, I say!
Here's how the teams line-up:
1. Anthony Minichiello Age: 24 Height: 181cm Weight: 88kg
2. Shannon Hegarty Age: 25 Height: 184cm Weight: 87kg
3. Ryan Cross Age: 24 Height: 191cm Weight: 95kg
4. Justin Hodges Age: 22 Height: 190cm Weight: 98kg
5. Chris Walker Age: 24 Height: 184cm Weight: 96kg
6. Brad Fittler (c) Age: 32 Height: 186cm Weight: 96kg
7. Brett Finch Age: 23 Height: 183cm Weight: 86kg
8. Jason Cayless Age: 24 Height: 194cm Weight: 108kg
9. Craig Wing Age: 24 Height: 180cm Weight: 86kg
10. Adrian Morley Age: 27 Height: 189cm Weight: 104kg
11. Michael Crocker Age: 24 Height: 187cm Weight: 100kg
12. Craig Fitzgibbon Age: 27 Height: 192cm Weight: 104g
15. Chris Flannery (In doubt) Age: 24 Height: 186cm Weight: 103kg
Interchange: 14. Chad Robinson Age: 23 Height: 185cm Weight: 100kg 16. Ned Catic Age: 26 Height: 190cm Weight: 102kg 17. Anthony Tupou Age: 21 Height: 186cm Weight: 108kg 18. Stuart Webb 19. Peter Cusack (one to be omitted)
Canterbury Bulldogs 1. Luke Patten Age: 24. Height: 190cm. Weight: 86kg
2. Hazem El Masri Age: 28. Height: 178cm. Weight: 86kg
5. Matt Utai Age: 23. Height: 168cm. Weight: 93kg
6. Braith Anasta Age: 22. Height: 189cm. Weight: 96kg
7. Brent Sherwin Age: 26. Height: 175cm. Weight: 82kg
8. Mark O'Meley Age: 23. Height: 180cm. Weight: 100kg
9. Adam Perry Age: 25. Height: 170cm. Weight: 94kg
16. Roy Asotasi Age: 22. Height: 184cm. Weight: 103kg
11. Willie Mason Age: 24. Height: 195cm. Weight: 115kg
12. Andrew Ryan (c) Age: 25. Height: 186cm. Weight: 105kg
13. Tony Grimaldi Age: 29. Height: 180cm. Weight: 93kg
Interchange: 14. Reni Maitua Age: 22. Height: 180cm. Weight: 97kg 15. Corey Hughes Age: 26. Height: 177cm. Weight: 89kg 17. Sonny Bill Williams Age: 19. Height: 191cm. Weight: 102kg 18. Johnathan Thurston 19. Jamie Feeney (one to be omitted)
Form Guide 2004
Roosters: Played: 26, Won 21, Lost 5 (Points for: 767, Points against: 396) Bulldogs: Played: 27, Won 21, Lost 6 (Points for: 782, Points against: 521)
Head to head since 1935: Played 145, Roosters 72, Bulldogs 68, Drawn 5
Previous clashes in 2004
Roosters 35 d Bulldogs 0 at SFS (round 3), Ref: T Mander Bulldogs 40 d Roosters 12 at Stadium Australia (round 13), Ref: P Simpkins
Centrebet (30 Sept) Roosters $2.40; Bulldogs $1.57
GAME DAY INFORMATION: 2004 TELSTRA PREMIERSHIP GRAND FINAL Telstra Stadium Sunday October 3, 2004
Gates open: 1:00pm (AEST)
Premier League: Sydney Roosters v St George Illawarra Dragons Kick off: 3:50pm
NRL: Roosters v Bulldogs Kick off: 7:00pm Referee: Tim Mander
LIVE SCORES: Leagueunlimited.com will be having live updates of the NRL Grand Final from 7:00pm. Click on the game link in the right side column.