Grand final week like a second Christmas for all NRL fans

This article was first written and published for NRL.com

I often tell people I get the opportunity to celebrate Christmas twice a year – once in December and once during NRL grand final week.

This week is the culmination of a season of hard work for two teams – the Sydney Roosters and the Melbourne Storm – with the ultimate symbol of success up for grabs on Sunday evening.

With so many other festivities during the week including the Dally M Awards, this is also the culmination of the season for all players and clubs.

It’s also a time to celebrate for fans and all the people that work within our game. Because rugby league is a family and we have all played our role in making this season the success that it was.

As a Parramatta Eels supporter, I’ve onlwatched my team progress to a grand final twice in my lifetime.

The first was in 2001 when Parramatta were the undisputed best team in the competition.

Last year, everyone marvelled at the Storm and just how far ahead of the rest of the competition they were. Parramatta were just as dominant in 2001.

My dad surprised me with grand final tickets. He later told me that been on the phone to Ticketek  for some time, hoping for good news.

I remember my godfather picked me up after school one day so I could stand in a crowd of people and see the players during that week. I also remember sitting at ANZ Stadium on the day, so excited about what was to come.

We all know what happened next – Parramatta were outclassed and outplayed by Andrew Johns and the Knights. Down 24-0 at half-time, the Eels ended up coming back … but just not enough in the end.

I experienced my first grand final heartbreak at age 12 and it took me a few weeks to get over it.

The next time Eels grand final experience was 2009. This time it was different. At no point during that year had I expected Parramatta to make it that far.

But then someone magical by the name of Jarryd Hayne came along and with players like Daniel Mortimer, Nathan Hindmarsh and Nathan Cayless chipping in, Parramatta found themselves in a grand final after sneaking into the top eight.

I don’t remember much of that game. I did dress up though with some of my friends as the “Underdog Heroes” to celebrate some players in our team that we felt had flown under the radar through the year – men like Todd Lowrie, Matt Keating and Tim Mannah – complete with blue hair, custom t-shirts and capes.

We also lost that grand final and Parramatta have not come close since.

But then times got tough and Parramatta didn’t play in the finals until last year and I certainly didn’t take it for granted, riding that wave until the Eels got knocked out by North Queensland in week two of the playoffs.

So, to those supporters who have a team competing in the NRL grand final, my advice to you is to soak up every moment because you never know how far away your next grand final appearance will be.

But it’s not just the men’s grand final which is being contested this weekend.

This year, the day takes on extra significance with the inaugural Holden Women’s Premiership also being played on Sunday.

At the end of 60 minutes, history will be made when either the Sydney Roosters or Brisbane Broncos are crowned premiers.

Roosters star Maddie Studdon.
Roosters star Maddie Studdon.©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

The journey to the final for each of the two teams could not have been more different.

The Broncos have been the undisputed standouts in the competition. They won all three of the matches.

Led by Ali Brigginshaw in the halves, Brittany Breayley at hooker and Chelsea Baker at fullback, the Broncos have been a class above every other team and go into the grand final as well-deserved favourites.

The Roosters on the other hand, go into the grand final having won just one game – their final game against St George Illawarra.

They started the season slowly, but it seems like combinations have clicked.

In the forwards they boast Jillaroos captain Ruan Sims and NSW Player of the Year and 2016 Dally M Player of the year Simaima Taufa. They also have firepower at the back – Taleena Simon scored four tries last weekend against the Dragons.

sabelle Kelly is a sensation who has not just lit up this competition but also was the star for NSW in their Origin win back in June.

The occasion was always going to be a special one and a history-making one for our game. But it got even better when it was announced earlier this week Kasey Badger will be the main referee for this game. Kasey is a talented referee and has been waiting a long time for an opportunity like this – it is well deserved.

I hope you all enjoy Christmas this week. My predictions? The Storm in the men’s decider and the Broncos in the women’s.

But then again, Christmas is a time for miracles, so perhaps we’ll see both Roosters team victorious on the day.