Getting déjà vu reading sports news? You’re not the only one.
The similarities between this weekend’s AFL and NRL grand finals are uncanny.
In one corner, we have the sides (the Western Bulldogs and Cronulla) attempting to break a massive drought.
Seasoned finals campaigners Sydney and the Melbourne Storm are in the other, out to spoil the fairytale in an occasion they are more than used to.
But the parallels don’t end there.
The similarities between the Western Bulldogs and the Cronulla Sharks
The Bulldogs have just one flag (1954) to show for 91 VFL-AFL seasons of toil, and one further grand final since (1961). The Sharks, in their 50th season, have never won a title. They last appeared in a grand final in 1997.
Preliminary final failures
Last week’s victory over GWS broke the Bulldogs’ run of seven straight preliminary final losses – all of which have come since 1985. They even lost three in a row from 2008 to 2010. Cronulla featured in seven preliminary finals between 1988 and 2008, losing six – most notably in 1999, when the minor premiers capitulated against arch-rivals St George Illawarra.
Debt-ridden and struggling with declining membership and sponsorship, the Footscray Bulldogs were on the verge of winding up their affairs in 1989. A merger with Fitzroy was abandoned, before local supporters raised funds to bail them out. Cronulla has been on the breadline at several junctures. The club needed a NSWRL loan to stay afloat in 1983, while they went into receivership a decade later and have endured dicey financial predicaments in recent seasons.
Few could have foreseen the Bulldogs or Sharks playing in this year’s grand finals at the end of 2014. The Sharks had just finished last as they battled the fallout of their supplements saga, while the Bulldogs finished 14th – and then saw their coach, captain and star player either sacked or leave.
The grand final underdogs represent the stronghold cities in their codes – and they face interstate interlopers. The MCG crowd will be behind the Bulldogs, and while the Sharks are a harder sell for neutrals, after last year’s all-Queensland grand final, Sydneysiders will get on the bandwagon.
The similarities between the Sydney Swans and the Melbourne Storm
Since 2002, the Swans have missed the top eight just once, in 2009, while the only year the Storm have sat out the finals was during the salary-cap-affected 2010 season. The Swans are making their fifth grand final appearance in 12 seasons, while it is the Storm’s sixth in 11 years.
Sydney and Melbourne both last won grand finals in 2012. The Swans edged Hawthorn in a 10-point thriller, while the Storm downed Canterbury by the same margin in the NRL decider of that year.
Third time’s a charm
Both the Swans and the Storm are chasing a third premiership to cement their status as modern giants of their respective competitions. The Swans won three titles as South Melbourne during the VFL’s formative decades, but a third flag since 2005 would see them sit behind only Hawthorn (five) since the AFL’s inception in 1990. The Storm, who had their 2007 and ’09 premierships stripped due to salary cap breaches, are looking to add to their 1999 and 2012 titles to join Brisbane with three in the NRL era (1998 onwards).
The Swans and Storm were both crowned minor premiers at the end of the regular season, registering just five losses each.
Melbourne footy types traditionally look down their nose at Sydney, while Sydney league fans are similarly disdainful of their southern cousins. The Swans and Storm have earned begrudging respect, but fans are loathe to see the respective trophies hijacked out of town.