Queensland coach Mal Meninga says this weekend’s NRL grand final is the decider that rugby league deserves.
After some nail-biting and breath-taking matches over the course of the semi-finals, ultimately it was the teams ranked first and second after the NRL’s minor rounds – the Bulldogs and Melbourne – left standing to fight it out for the title.
Both teams were ruthless in their preliminary final wins – the Bulldogs blasting South Sydney’s fairytale run, and the Storm destroying a truly awful Manly team the night before.
Big Mal said the match had the makings of a classic, given both teams were hitting their peak in form just in time for the grand final.
“You can’t help but be impressed by what we have seen by both teams, both during the season itself and during the finals,” Mal said.
“We have ended up with the two best teams, and the two best coaches, at the absolute peak of their powers. You can’t really ask for much more than that as a footy fan. Everything is set up for a fantastic game of footy.”
Mal said the performances of rival coaches Des Hasler and Craig Bellamy should not be overlooked in the incredible performances of the two teams.
“You know, both of these guys have had to do a hell of a lot of work in getting these teams to where they are,” Mal said.
“Obviously Craig has done an incredible job with Melbourne over a long time now, but the way that he has rebuilt the club and still been able to maintain their standards of success after the salary cap scandal has been remarkable.
“For Des on the other hand, you have a coach who has come in to a brand new club and been able to reinvent the way they go about everything they do.
“It is easy to forget that Canterbury didn’t even make the finals last year. So for Des to have guided them to the grand final after being the most consistent and successful team all season is an incredible achievement.
“And I think both of these teams are a reflection of their coaches – they are thorough and professional in everything that they do. Neither team is going to be overawed by the occasion. This is what they have been training for.”
Most Queensland fans will find it hard not to side with the Storm, given the massive Maroons connection that exists with skipper Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Dane Neilsen, who all played in this year’s series.
But the Bulldogs boast some Queensland connections of their own, or course, most notably in the form of star fullback and reigning Dally M Player of the Year Ben Barba.
But there is also FOG No.154 – interchange forward David Stagg, who played one game for the Maroons in the 2006 series.
A little further away from the spotlight though sits another Queenslander, Bulldogs assistant coach Kelly Egan.
Egan made his name as a player with Valleys and North Sydney, playing in the centres, and later went on to be an assistant coach at the Cowboys and Manly, and also the head coach at Wynnum-Manly in the Queensland Cup.
Egan was with Des Hasler at Manly, and was his assistant coach in the Sea Eagles’ premiership win last year.
When Hasler departed for the Bulldogs, Egan was one of a number of staff members to follow him to Belmore.