Even though Sydneysiders might still need convincing, there’s plenty to look forward to in Sunday evening’s NRL Grand Final at ANZ Stadium.
Will the season come to its seemingly inevitable conclusion, with a premiership to the dominant Melbourne Storm?
Or will we see a different sort of history made, with the North Queensland Cowboys becoming the first team to win the title from eighth place on the table?
Will one of the Storm’s big three – skipper Cameron Smith, star fullback Billy Slater, or departing halfback Cooper Cronk – win the Clive Churchill Medal?
Or will the form player of the finals, Cowboys halfback Michael Morgan, pick up the best afield gong after steering his team home?
Cairns product Justin Hodges, who played most of his 16 seasons in the NRL with the Brisbane Broncos, is one who’s hoping for the Cowboys to complete a modern sporting fairytale.
“Being a North Queensland boy, I’d like to see them get up,” Fox League commentator Hodges told The New Daily.
“If someone had said they would lose [co-captains] Matt Scott after Round 2 and [Johnathan Thurston] halfway through the season, and still make the Grand Final, everyone would be laughing, saying it’s way too hard.”
In fact, most of the players themselves probably thought they weren’t going to even make the finals after losing their last match of the regular season to the Broncos.
That was on the Thursday night to start round 26, and they had to wait until the last minutes of a Sunday afternoon match to see the Canterbury Bulldogs help them into eighth spot – with two late tries which cost the St George Illawarra Dragons that last spot.
“Full credit to the Cowboys,” Hodges said.
“They were sitting around in the last round waiting for results to go their way.
“So to do what they have is remarkable. No-one gave them a chance.
“[In the finals] they beat the Sharks, then beat the Eels and got past the Roosters, who had a week off.”
With their terrible run of injuries, the Cowboys have played 32 players – including seven debutants – this season, with stand-in skipper Gavin Cooper and a handful of others leading the way.
“Michael Morgan has been brilliant, then there’s Lachlan Coote, and Jason Taumalolo – all three have been remarkable,” Hodges said, insisting that the Storm’s ball control had to be spot on to avoid defeat.
“If you give the Cowboys opportunities to score, they can easily make you pay.”
The Storm, on the other hand, have been the stand-out team for most of the season, losing only four games.
“It’s hard to go past the Storm – they’re just so consistent,” Hodges conceded.
“All their big players are closer to the end of their careers than the start – this is Cooper’s last game for them, Billy and Cameron Smith are getting older.”
Apart from the aging of those stars Hodges – like most pundits – thinks the Storm side has few, if any weaknesses, and should win.
“I think Cooper [Cronk] will win the Clive Churchill Medal and is in for one hell of a night,” he said.
“It’s his last game for his beloved Storm and he’ll be determined to go out on a high.”
Nevertheless, he keeps finding a glimmer of hope for the Cowboys.
“The Cowboys definitely deserve to be there,” he said.
“They have gotten together as a group of men and proved everyone wrong.
“Morgan has been in the shadow of JT but this year he has really shown what he can do.”
If they do pull off the upset, it will be an incredible ending to a true underdog story.