D-Day is fast approaching for coach Paul McGregor – it’s this Sunday night, at Netstrada Jubilee Stadium, when his Dragons take on the depleted Manly Sea Eagles.
Regardless of who stands victorious come the end of October, the 2020 NRL premiers will be forever etched into history.
Whether or not you believe this season should or should not have an asterisk placed next to it, it ultimately will. And so it should.
In 1997, when the Super League war ripped Australian Rugby League apart, two leagues were formed and two champions were crowned.
While the Newcastle Knights and Brisbane Broncos were the respective Australian Rugby League and Super League champions, there has always been a point made about how they got there. Not only did they navigate the murky waters of rugby league’s future in Australia, but they had to do it under a whole new system.
In a recent interview, Immortal Andrew Johns reflected on the criticism he and that famous Knights team received after the ’97 victory.
“I know back when we were playing some rep footy after ’97, a lot of people would say, ‘ah yeah, it’s only half a comp. You didn’t beat the Broncos’,” Johns told Wide World of Sports.
“I don’t know whether we would have beat the Broncos in that era. They were red-hot, 22 internationals at a club.
“So there’s always that thing (but) over time I’ve heard it less.”
The 2020 NRL competition may seem more unified than ’97, but reduced rounds, a change to one referee and new home venues means a whole different approach to rugby league.
Some experts argue that the team who lifts the Provan-Summons trophy on October 25 will have done it under extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances. And that because they have done it, they should be heralded and forever remembered as the team who overcame one of the worst crises in recent human history.
What past player can say that they defied a pandemic to win a premiership ring?
Others say that because of these rampant changes, in which teams have been forced to overhaul their normal protocols and practices, that any win comes at a cost. Teams who may have had injury concerns have now been given a fresh breath of life. Two months off to rejuvenate and rest their payers from the toll of 80 minutes of football week in and week out. That would be a godsend to some coaches.
Newly introduced rules however, also means newly constructed excuses. It will only be a matter of time before some coaches use the rule changes as a basis for their team’s loss. It will become the new calling cry of the NRL.
“How are we meant to play when they are laying all over us in the ruck? The one ref can’t see all the dirty tricks the other team is playing.” – Disgruntled coach after controversial loss.
This two months off will have both a positive and negative effect. Those clubs with strong front offices and a history of good practice will rise to the top, and those who continue to dip their toe into controversy will fall by the wayside.
One thing does remain certain though. The 2020 NRL premiers will be forever remembered.
The question is: how?