QUEENSLAND will be delivered another rugby league fairytale regardless of the result in the historic NRL grand final between the Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys.
While the two clubs are over 2000km apart, the game essentially boils down to another all-Queensland derby showdown, with a host of Maroons that played in this year’s State of Origin series to square off in the NRL decider.
Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Munster, Tim Glasby and Will Chambers from Melbourne, and North Queensland’s Justin O’Neill, Michael Morgan, Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess were united in Maroon earlier this year but are now enemies at club level.
This is the third time Sydney has been “locked out” of the NRL grand final, with the Broncos and Storm facing off in 2006, before the Cowboys-Broncos epic of 2015.
Queenslanders unattached to either club still have plenty of reasons to cheer, with a library of Maroon fairytales sprinkled through this year’s grand final narrative.
Chief among them are the Cowboys themselves, who have stunned the game with their incredible journey to the biggest club game of the year.
The Cowboys only qualified for this year’s finals series after falling into eighth spot when the Bulldogs upset the Dragons in the last round of the regular season.
While there was an element of luck involved, the Cowboys were rightly lauded for just making the play-offs, given they have had to fight practically every step of the way this season without their co-captains and two best players in Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott.
But the Cowboys have made the most of their opportunity.
They banished defending premiers Cronulla in the first week of the play-offs, then crushed the highly fancied Parramatta and Roosters with a gameplan built on incredible discipline, the brute power of Jason Taumalolo and the sheer brilliance of Michael Morgan.
The Cowboys have strangled their opponents out of the semi-finals with mistake-free football that not only starves rivals of possession, but has allowed Morgan to display his full bag of tricks.
The loss of Thurston was supposed to kill off the Cowboys. Instead, it has allowed Morgan to take his game to another level.
Instead of simply being Thurston’s partner in crime, Morgan has now himself evolved into one of the elite halfbacks of the competition.
His organisation, kicking game, defence and ball-playing have been nothing short of brilliant.
A fairytale looms too for Scott, who is a chance of making his return from a knee reconstruction in the grand final, giving the Cowboys and injection of size and experience that they will need against Melbourne.
The Storm, on the other hand have their own fairytales to consider, with the grand final to be the final game in Melbourne colours – and possibly last NRL game ever – for their Maroons champion Cronk.
There is also the chance too for skipper Cameron Smith to add another prize to an incredible season by captaining Melbourne to the premiership.
Smith this season has already broken the record for most Origin games played, most NRL games played, most career points scored by a forward and most goals kicked in the NRL.
He now stands on the cusp of being the first man to captain his club to the premiership, his state to Origin glory, and his country to victory at the World Cup, with Australia almost unbackable favourites to win the final at Suncorp Stadium on December 2.
Unlike the Cowboys though, Smith’s Storm are not carrying a massive amount of momentum into the grand final.
While they have undoubtedly been the best team all year, the Storm have not been overly impressive in their two finals performances against the Eels and Broncos.
While the win over Brisbane ended in a 30-0 rout, the Storm took a long time to take control of the match after a first half marred by numerous uncharacteristic mistakes.
The bad news for the Cowboys though is that a performance like that first 40 minutes against the Broncos is rare, and two performances like that from the Storm are unheard of.
Melbourne rediscovered their ruthless streak in the second 40 minutes against Brisbane, and may have found their rhythm just in time for the biggest game of the year.