For one of the rare times this century, the AFL and NRL grand finals will be held on the same weekend this season.
And in a more remarkable symmetry, Melbourne and Sydney face the prospect of hosting watershed derbies between out-of-town teams on the biggest day of the cities’ respective sporting calendars.
West Coast and Fremantle are one game away from a dream WA showdown at the MCG; the Eagles are warm favourites to down North Melbourne this weekend, while the Dockers are set to go in as slight underdogs when they host Hawthorn in the other preliminary final.
Brisbane won its way straight through to week three with a gripping qualifying final win over North Queensland, but the Cowboys stayed alive with a commanding defeat of Cronulla on Saturday and will now travel to Melbourne to take on the Storm for a place in the big one.
The Broncos face Sydney Roosters in what should be an absolute belter at Suncorp Stadium.
Both NRL prelims are virtually even-money propositions.
But while the AFL – and the vast majority of its non-Kangaroos or non-Hawks supporters – would welcome a western shootout as the climax of their season, the brass at NRL headquarters are shuffling nervously in their offices at the prospect of a grand final without a Sydney team present.
An all-Queensland affair would be almost too much to bear for New South Wales supporters after the record drubbing their representative side copped in the State of Origin decider, while a Broncos-Storm decider would hold about as much appeal for Sydney diehards as a stage musical depicting the life of Wally Lewis.
Neutrals are even willing to get behind those widely disliked latte-sippers from Bondi, the Roosters, for the next fortnight.
Both codes have become accustomed to having ‘outsiders’ invade their Grand Final since embarking on expansion programs during the 1980s and ’90s.
West Coast became the first interstate club to appear in an AFL Grand Final in 1991, and there has been just eight Melbourne-only deciders as Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Port Adelaide and Fremantle rose to contend for the crown.
There’s even been three instances of no Victorian representation on Grand Final day – all in consecutive seasons, when the Port Adelaide Power toppled the three-time champions Brisbane Lions in 2004 before the Sydney Swans and West Coast Eagles contested back-to-back grand finals in 2005-06.
Rugby league has been accustomed to interlopers from outside Sydney’s boundaries lining up for the big dance.
Canberra was the first, in 1987, while Brisbane, Newcastle, Melbourne, New Zealand Warriors and North Queensland have followed suit. Only eight of the last 28 Grand Finals have featured two Sydney clubs.
But the big difference is there’s only been one decider with no Sydney teams involved: Brisbane v Melbourne in 2006.
It was a tense, high-quality match won 15-8 by the Darren Lockyer-inspired Broncos – the only underdogs to win an NRL Grand Final in the last decade – yet it is one of the least-heralded of the modern era; one can only assume that’s due to the ‘visitor’ status of both teams.
The Victorian Football League became the Australian Football League in 1990, while the New South Wales Rugby League premiership waited until 1995 before coming under the Australian Rugby League banner and then rebranding as the National Rugby League three years later in the wake of the Super League war.
It seems the league faithful might be a few years behind the ‘footy’ crowd once again when it comes to the traditional heartland supporters celebrating the nationwide reach of their sport.
If an Eagles-Dockers decider eventuates, Melburnians will dispense with their club loyalties for a day to pick a team and pack out the ‘G, cheering on the combatants in a manner befitting such a historic clash.
It remains to be seen whether Sydney-siders will be able to set aside their local teams’ failings and muster the same enthusiasm to help make a Broncos-Cowboys Grand Final showdown the landmark occasion it should be.