This story was first written for and published by NRL.com.
Rugby league family – this is it. We made it. On Sunday a spectacular season will conclude when the Melbourne Storm take on the North Queensland Cowboys in this year’s NRL Grand Final.
I have some fond (and some not so fond) memories of grand finals. What about 2015? I watched the stadium erupt when Johnathan Thurston kicked a golden-point field goal for to steal victory for his Cowboys from the Brisbane Broncos. Or last year when I heard Paul Gallen finally tell residents of the Shire to “turn your porch lights off, because we’re coming home with a trophy” as the Cronulla Sharks broke a 50-year premiership drought. What about 2001? Actually as a Parramatta Eels fan, let’s not talk about that.
For our players, playing in and winning a grand final is what they work all year to achieve. I always find it very difficult not to get caught up in the emotion of the event, particularly in the last three years where the NRL has been very good at dealing in the business of fairytales.
Grand Final Day is like my Christmas. It’s not just about what happens on the field, but so much about what happens on the day too.
Here are some of the things I am most looking forward to on Sunday.
Intrust Super State Championship between the Penrith Panthers and the PNG Hunters
If you are going to the grand final, make sure you get there early.
Last weekend, history was made for plenty of reasons. It was the first time the Australian Jillaroos played in Papua New Guinea and the first time that the Papau New Guinea Orchids had ever played on the international stage. When Maima Wei crossed the line for the Orchids in the 66th minute, she scored the team’s first ever try and the roar from the crowd was deafening.
But that was only the start for Papua New Guinea.
On Sunday afternoon the PNG Hunters defeated the Sunshine Coast to win their first ever Intrust Super Cup. Willie Minoga scored the winning try in the dying moment after Ase Boas put through a grubber. Boas then converted the try to seal the win for the Hunters.
After only four seasons in the competition, this was the Hunters’ first Intrust Super Cup Premiership.
For a country like Papua New Guinea that loves rugby league, this was an incredible moment which could potentially only be eclipsed by a win on Sunday.
I love the passion that the Hunters bring to rugby league and can’t wait to see them play at ANZ Stadium. If this game doesn’t get you excited about the Rugby League World Cup, then I don’t think anything else will.
Whilst the 80 minutes of the grand final might be a celebration of the two best teams in that year’s competition, Grand Final Day also gives us, as a game, the opportunity to celebrate our athletes.
Our players are dedicated, committed talented athletes who give so much to their clubs and the communities they represent. It’s important that on Grand Final Day we take a moment to celebrate the players that are moving on and to say thank you to them for their service to our game.
That’s why the parade of retiring players is one of my favourite parts about Grand Final Day. Extra points go to the players who bring their children with them.
This year I’ll be standing on my seat and applauding for plenty of players, but in particular Isaac de Gois and Jeff Robson.
Change the game, don’t let the game change you
By far the thing I am looking forward to the most on Sunday is dancing to Macklemore.
When it was announced that he was going to be performing at the NRL Grand Final it’s fair to say my reaction was “beyond excited”. Macklemore is a talented artist, plenty of fun and the opportunity to sing “it was 99 cents” is one I can’t wait to take up.
It’s a shame that over the past couple of days Macklemore has been used as a political pawn and his name has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Over the last couple of weeks our country has been talking about one very big issue – should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. On Sunday, Macklemore and the NRL will make a strong statement together by combining two of my biggest passions, music and sport.
When Macklemore sings ‘Same Love’, he will reinforce the message that Todd Greenberg shared a couple of weeks ago. That message is that our game is an inclusive one. It is one that welcomes everyone. No matter who you are or where you come from, the rugby league family is one that welcomes you and is a family where you should never be afraid to be yourself.
I’m so proud to be part of a game that wants to stand up and say that diversity and inclusion are things that matter.
Many people suggest that sport and politics shouldn’t play in the same sandpit. My question is, were they ever really separate to start with?
I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday and celebrating a wonderful season. I hope you’ll also join me and sing and dance to Macklemore and do your part to make it clear that the rugby league family is one where everyone can belong. Because in the end, your family should be the ones you can always come home to and the ones who should always accept you just the way you are.