St George Illawarra Dragons have turned on a five-star second half performance to win the merged entity its inaugural premiership, end a 31-year wait for the Kogarah based half, crown Wayne Bennett as the game’s greatest ever coach and kick-off an almighty party at the two Leagues clubs and plenty of pubs in between.
Bennett must have earned every dollar he’ll ever get from the Dragons during half-time when he turned around a side that was in danger of frittering away a golden opportunity to take the crown.
The game had started well enough for the team with the Red V when Mark Gasnier pounced on a Jamie Soward kick to open the scoring but a string of errors and some leaky defence suddenly put the Roosters on the front foot and in front on the scoreboard.
However, the two tries in quick succession to Braith Anasta and Mitchell Aubusson would be the last time the Roosters troubled the score board attendant.
That wasn’t the case for the team that everyone had labelled boring and conservative in the run up to this match as they piled on 26 unanswered points.
The Dragons attack punished the inexperienced Roosters right hand side defence of Kane Linnet and Joseph Leilua as Jason Nightingale enjoyed a field day ending with two tries.
But in the end it was the Dragons forwards that laid the platform. Conversely when the Roosters needed their pack to plough it forward on their own steam and not rely on field position via penalties or errors they just came up with nothing.
With no go-forward Todd Carney was forced to crab across field and the Dragons just weren’t going to let that cut it, especially as the track got heavy.
Once they wore them down the Dragons were ruthless. Dean Young crashed over with a pet play, game over.
Then Nathan Fien wrapped up with an almost comical effort.
It won’t matter to any Dragons fan but it became clear that the Gasnier return wouldn’t be without its consequences with their two best forwards from today Jeremy Smith and Neville Costigan both heading elsewhere in 2011.
As for their coach Wayne Bennett, it says something about a coach that ever since he took over at the Dragons it seemed like it was only a matter of time before he won them a comp.
Rugby league was full of rumours last week but Cowboys fans must be praying the one that was true was that Bennett would head to Townsville after his deal with the Dragons ends.
For Brian Smith, well the wait continues….
Those watching on the box were greeted by Ken Sutcliffe who told them within his first 30 seconds that the two teams were battling it out for “club rugby’s biggest prize” before adding “in the game of rugby league” just to make a complete dog’s breakfast of it.
Sutcliffe looked far more comfortable when he shifted into shamelessly plugging a sponsor when announced with incredible excitement that the game would be broadcast in 3D down the Eastern Seaboard, which would be “three times the fun”. I’m not quite sure how we came to that conclusion given the rest of the viewing audience were managing to make do with two-dimensional pictures.
God knows what he thinks of anyone who listens to the game via the radio these days.
Finally, I had to laugh when I thought about those rugby league fans who consider John Williamson as a good choice for the “young people” when the Justice Crew kicked off the entertainment.
Moaning about the entertainment at Grand Finals is almost a national past-time and I reckon it would almost be worth wasting four hours of my life listening to talkback radio just to hear what they made of it.
Hopefully they may have been satisfied by Dan Sultan’s efforts on vocals although he remains the only singer I’ve ever seen cover Mick Jagger while simultaneously fulfilling the criteria of “business casual”.
But that’s all about the window dressing, at crunch time the Dragons were too good, as they have been all year.