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The 2018 NRL grand final was a game of three halves

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1st October, 2018
24
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It was the best worst game, and the worst best game I’ve ever seen.

Any other year, the Clive Churchill Medallist would be the main man for points of discussion post-grand final.

But the 2018 decider was an outlier of trivia night proportions.

Worth storing in the memory banks for future pub quizzes:

– Mitchell Aubusson wore the No.7 jersey for the Roosters in their 2018 premiership victory.
– Cam Munster was the first player to be sin binned twice in a grand final.
– Both Cooper Cronk and Blake Ferguson finished the game with broken bones.

And it’s not for nothing that the big talking points surround the halves, because this was a game of sixes and sevens – specifically, three of them (no offence to young Brodie Croft, who was nowhere near the worst player on the park, but he wasn’t really part of the narrative).

Luke Keary was the deserved man of the match, seriously stepping up on the biggest day of the year.

Daniel Tupou

Daniel Tupou of the Roosters (C) celebrates with Boyd Cordner (L) and Luke Keary (R) (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

But the former South Sydney premiership winner was forced into this position because the man the Roosters had splashed out big time on in the hopes he’d win them the comp’s ultimate prize – and more or less sacked their premiership-winning, ten-year halfback in favour of – was playing busted.

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We didn’t find out until after full time, but Cooper Cronk played the entire game with a broken scapula.

And the former Storm maestro had what may have been the worst best game in memory.

It was noticeable how rarely we heard Cronk’s name during the course of the match, yet he was right there – tackling blokes with his broken shoulder and, more importantly, barking orders.

Overall, he did next to nothing, yet was a part of everything. It was the ultimate masterclass in game management. That he was off the field when the game ended, with a look of concern rather than jubilation on his face, suggests we may not see the great man on a footy field again.

Meanwhile, the bloke who is doing a fair job of replacing Cronk to ensure the Storm still have a ‘Big Three’, Cameron Munster, played out of his skin.

Yet zero of what he attempted seemed to come off. Munster was the antithesis of King Midas – whatever he touched turned to shit.

People will argue that the sin bin should never be used in the biggest game of the year, but Munster deserved to cool his jets on the sideline on both occasions he copped his marching orders. The first was a clear professional foul, while the second? I dunno if we need to trawl the rulebook to find the specifics of ‘don’t kick people in the head’.

Cameron Munster

Cameron Munster of the Storm (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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But, otherwise, he gave it his all. It’s just that none of his efforts bore any fruit – in fact, they often ended up in spilled balls and other errors.

Munster has a premiership ring to his name, as well as a handful of games for both Queensland and Australia. At just 24 years old, I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t end up with another grand final victory to his name – whichever club he ends up playing for.

And he showed on Sunday that he’s a big-game player, he just didn’t quite get things right this time around. So it was a shame that he finished his night on the sidelines, because he was one of Melbourne’s rare bright spots – played the best worst game I’ve seen in years.

But that was the problem – one bloke was a pretty clear standout for the Storm.

By comparison, while Keary earned his Clive Churchill medal, you could have very easily given the gong to a plenty of others.

Jake Friend and Boyd Cordner both played true captain’s knocks, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves more than made up for his weak 2017 finals campaign, Joseph Manu was ticking boxes left and right, and when Latrell Mitchell gave Will Chambers a few added extras over the sideline? Best part of the entire 80 minutes!

Which, I guess, is the part that we all need to reflect on.

It won’t go down as one of the all-time classic grand finals, but Trent Robinson’s boys put on a proper show and were the best team on the night by the length of the straight.

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Deserved premiers, and a raised glass to them for playing a game of footy that this neutral fan felt privileged to watch.