So it came to pass; the two sentimental favourite teams won the AFL and NRL grand finals after long periods without success.
As my ‘Grand final convergence theory’ article demonstrated, they were also teams playing in only their third official grand final, and were teams of three colours playing against teams who’d last one the competition in 2012. It was meant to be!
But was it fair?
There was another, more significant commonality between the Western Bulldogs and Cronulla last weekend: both were playing in their home city against teams from interstate, yet the travelling teams were the minor premiers.
It gave the Dogs and Sharks a great advantage. There was overwhelming passion and loud support for both teams, with commentators estimating majorities of 70 per cent of the crowd for these teams. It certainly sounded like it.
As well as the huge emotional and vocal support, it meant being in their home city, no flights, and being able to stay in their normal domestic routines. Those are significant benefits.
I know this will sound like sour grapes from a Swans supporter, but it’s time that both codes had a good look at the grand final arrangements. Times have changed, it’s not the Sydney premiership anymore, it’s the National Rugby League, likewise it’s not the VFL any more, it’s the Australian Football League.
It’s time the location of the biggest game of the year reflected the new realities. Why should the grand final be automatically held in Sydney for the NRL or in Melbourne for the AFL?
Other codes in Australia and across the world manage to do things differently. The FFA hold their grand final at the home of the highest qualifier, so clearly that’s not impossible to arrange. The same goes for the Sheffield Shield and the NBL. Surely, in these days of multiple stadium bookings, that is not an insurmountable obstacle? Those arrangements work for preliminary finals in the NRL and AFL, so why not a week later?
There are grounds available in other cities, maybe not as big in terms of crowd capacity, but that’s not the only part of the story. The Adelaide Oval, the new ground in Perth, the SCG or ANZ in Sydney would all handle the AFL just fine, while Etihad or Suncorp could host the NRL. And that’s to say nothing of Eden Park in Auckland – can you really have a New Zealand team in your competition and never allow them to host the grand final?
Or the Australian codes could follow the example of two of the biggest football competitions in the world and simply move it around, choosing the location well in advance. The 2017 Super Bowl will be played in Houston, Texas, and the Champions League Final will be in Cardiff, Wales. In those cases, it has nothing to do with who is playing, which doesn’t seem to be a problem.
Yes, their markets are bigger and the game will sell out anywhere, whereas demand for tickets varies in different parts of Australia, but it at least raises the question of why a big game has to be in just one location every year.
Would the results have been different if the Swans had hosted the Bulldogs at the SCG, or if the Storm had taken on Cronulla at Etihad? We’ll never know of course, but it would certainly have changed the vibe of the game and the dynamics of the day.
Whatever the outcome, it would have been fairer. It’s time for change.