It was once unthinkable, once unspeakable and only the bravest diehards dared dream it. But for once, the underdogs are making the big wigs at NRL HQ nervous.
Conspiracy theorists will have you believe that the last thing NRL Chief Executive Todd Greenberg and his band of merry men want is for a Canberra or Gold Coast to make the grand final. After all, there is a real chance they could be pitted against the Cronulla Sharks or worse still – each other. How will the game survive without the Brisbane Broncos, Melbourne Storm or North Queensland Cowboys of the world?
But how good would it be?
You only have to go back to the end of season 2014 to see just how far these clubs have come.
At the end of 26 rounds, the bottom three clubs were in fact Gold Coast, Canberra and the Sharks.
To see the Sharks and their loyal fans finally rejoicing, no doubt crying tears of joy, at their maiden premiership trophy.
Or Ricky Stuart’s Raiders?
These guys are the real deal and no team plays harder for each other than Canberra. And what a story Stuart would be after his one and only title as coach with the Roosters coming no less than fourteen years ago.
Then there’s the Titans who with all due respect to Jarryd Hayne, probably would have made the playoffs without him. They’re not there yet but are winning games at the right time of the season.
Forget television ratings.
Who would deny the fairy tale finish for a slightly bigger audience?
Not since 2005 have we had an underdog vs underdog decider. Then it was perennial cellar dwellers North QLD against a Wests Tigers outfit some predicted had more chance claiming the wooden spoon than a grand final.
Since then we’ve had heavyweights, powerhouses, juggernauts, machines and irresistible forces. Could 2016 be the year we all get to sit back and rejoice in rugby league itself?
Is it possible we get to throw form guides out the window and enjoy the Sharks against Canberra or dreaming a little more, Raiders against Titans?
To put this all in perspective we must go back in time.
Not long ago the Sharks were the plodders of the competition. Ironically Ricky Stuart was coach and in those days Cronulla had more chance winning 8-6 via four Luke Covell penalty goals and a Paul Gallen master class than a swashbuckling 30-10 demolition. Then came the peptide scandal and while Cronulla are enjoying one of their most successful seasons to date, sport’s darkest day continues to write itself in the back rooms of law firms and boardrooms.
What about Canberra? Supposedly unwanted by some within the NRL. With all due respect to the Raiders, they’ve been a shell of the once mighty club that won titles in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. But that’s all changed under the steady eye of CEO Don Furner and new coach Stuart. They’re attracting players these days too. Not long ago they had James Tedesco and Kevin Proctor turn their back on contracts and god knows how many others scoffed at their advances.
And then there’s the Gold Coast. The former Giants, the old Seagulls, defunct Chargers (and yes even the Gladiators for a very short amount of time).
For a while they were the poster boys of the town. A time when kids put up posters of Preston Campbell and Mat Rogers and tugged on their dad’s jerseys asking the question, “Can the Titans win the grand final, daddy?”
Times must and always change.
Stars retired, wins were scarce and the fans evaporated.
Footy is cyclical and in 2016 the fans were returning on the back of a team that refused to fade into the light. And now they have a poster boy in J. Hayne.
Can the Titans win the comp?
Sure, why not?
If only they can overcome the Sharks and the Raiders.
How good does that sound!
Video source: Rugby World