As the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm played out a brutal, tough and entertaining preliminary final on Saturday night, much of the Harbour City breathed a large sigh of relief when the final siren eventually sounded, due to the realisation that a grand final between two interstate teams was an impossibility.
For many Sydneysiders, the thought of an NRL grand final without a Sydney team in it was just too much to contemplate, and the Chooks’ victory was as good as a victory for their own team.
I’ll be blunt: I find this line of thinking downright bizarre.
If my team – the Canterbury Bulldogs – isn’t in the grand final, I honestly could not care less where the premiers come from. Oh, and seeing as the Dogs haven’t won the comp since 2004, I’ve had plenty of experience in this department.
Although I find the thought of having a second favourite team the height of lunacy, I do recognise that certain years there may be a narrative you buy into that means you have a spot soft for one of the grand final combatants.
From fairytale finishes for magnificent careers, long-time hoodoos being broken, popular players deserving a premiership, massive underdogs, or simply pure loathing for the other team in the grand final, I can appreciate how certain angles or storylines can see you supporting a team that isn’t yours on the first Sunday of October.
What I can’t understand is the notion that you must get on the bandwagon of the Sydney team that’s in the grand final for the simple reason they are… from Sydney. How does that make any sense?
Perhaps it’s just me, but I hate every team that I don’t support.
Sure, there’s levels of hatred. For some teams it’s quite mild, and I merely hope they win the wooden spoon every season. For others, it’s a little more vitriolic and I hope the club catches leprosy and burns in hell for eternity, where Pitbull is on 24/7, and only non-alcoholic beers are on tap.
Either way, it’s hatred all the same.
I’m not sure why I’m meant to support the team from Sydney – that I’ve hated all season long – just because they reside in the same city as my team. What exactly is the logic here?
If anything, I actually hate the neighbouring teams even more, as I’m highly likely to know their fans, and it’s therefore highly likely that I’ll encounter them cheerfully celebrating a grand final win. No one needs that in their life.
The joy of winning a grand final is like sex. Fantastic, if it’s me. Otherwise, I don’t want to see it. Keep it behind closed doors, thank you. Or in this instance, far away and interstate.
This concept of us all banding together against the interstate interlopers isn’t confined to the NRL either. Every year, the same basic sentiment exists in the AFL when a non-Melbourne team makes the grand final, and it makes just as much sense south of the border as it does in Sydney.
I get why the NRL themselves, the broadcasters, and the media, would all prefer a Sydney team in the grand final. Sydney remains a heartland for rugby league, and it naturally drives up interest and ratings to have one (if not two) Sydney teams in the big dance. That makes complete rational, commercial, business sense.
Yes, I used the term “the big dance” just then to annoy people. It really does seem to set a lot of people off!
If, however, you tell me that the reason to support the Sydney side is more to do with the opposition, it begins to make a little more sense.
For example, given that Melbourne are guilty of salary-cap cheating, have contained some all-conquering Queensland players, allegedly introduced wrestling/grappling tactics into the game, and are captained by a player that the Sydney media have brainwashed everyone into hating, I can totally comprehend why a Sydney team playing them becomes an overwhelming sentimental favourite.
I don’t subscribe to that Storm strategy myself, but I do understand it.
There’s also the small point that Melbourne win, and win a lot. That’s always an important ingredient in hatred.
Yet this Sunday’s grand final has an interesting twist to the whole ‘support the Sydney team’ narrative.
The Sydney team in the final is the Roosters, and though I have no empirical evidence of this, I suspect they might be the most disliked of all the Sydney teams.
Manly, Cronulla and Canterbury may all take umbrage at that opinion, but the Roosters have one significant advantage over all of them: like Melbourne, they win. Which means they’re far from the loveable Sydney darlings that everyone will get behind by default.
To complicate matters further, their opposition on Sunday will be the Canberra Raiders, and while even the densest Sydneysider would know Canberra isn’t in Sydney, I’m willing to bet many think it is in NSW.
Technically, they’re right – the ACT is located within NSW. This deep, high-level, geographical analysis means many fans don’t truly consider the Raiders an interstate intruder.
Combine that with Canberra’s plucky underdog status, and the fact they haven’t won a premiership since way back in 1994, and the Green Machine will be riding a wave of goodwill against the Roosters, even in Sydney.
This just highlights how irrational the whole ‘support the Sydney team’ malarkey is.
Support whoever you want, but spare me the silliness of cheering on a team because they kind of, sort of, nearly, are located near your team.
Grand final prediction
The physicality of the Roosters versus Storm preliminary final would have made many a person happy in the nation’s capital. The Chooks will be very sore this week, that’s for sure, and how they recover could well decide who wins the 2019 premiership.
Canberra can be pretty physical themselves – led by big, bad Josh Papalii – and one Raiders strategy may be to capitalise on the Roosters’ intense preliminary final by bashing them up again early.
To be honest, that’s most team’s strategy against most teams, so it’s not rocket science, but could it be enough for Canberra to upset the Roosters?
The Raiders’ defence has been awesome all year, but it will need to be against a Roosters outfit that combines the methodical precision a Cooper Cronk-led team always has with the individual attacking brilliance of players like James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell. It’s a lethal combination of smarts and talent, and the Roosters’ back line in full flight – with players running onto the ball at extreme pace – is rugby league poetry.
When you consider the Roosters are also great in defence and the Raiders can struggle in attack, I just think the Eastern Suburbs club will be too good, and deservedly win this year’s premiership.
Roosters by ten.