By GREG INGLIS
SUNDAY will be a strange day indeed for some of Queensland rugby league’s finest players – they are about to run out on to Stadium Australia in front of 80,000-plus fans and actually get cheered.
There is usually no more intimidating place to be for a Queenslander than a heaving Stadium Australia.
State of Origin players like Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker, Darius Boyd, Matt Gillett, Matt Scott, Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston know only too well what it feels like as a Queenslander in enemy territory on State of Origin night at Stadium Australia.
But tonight’s historic all-Queensland NRL Grand Final will be very different, with as many as 30,000 Queenslanders flooding into Sydney to watch the Brisbane Broncos against the North Queensland Cowboys.
In place of the passionate Blatchy’s Blues fans in their blue wigs will be proud Queenslanders, most of whom will be desperate for either the Broncos or the Cowboys to win, but quietly happy that two Queensland teams will fight out this year’s Grand Final on the big stage.
Both teams have played finals matches this season at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. But while Suncorp is a great Stadium, playing at Stadium Australia on Grand Final Day in front of 80,000-plus supporters is something else.
I’ll never forget the experience of winning last year’s Grand Final with my South Sydney Rabbitohs teammates at Stadium Australia. It was very special.
Rival coaches Wayne Bennett and Paul Green will have their players focused purely on their preparation and a good 80-minute performance tonight.
This is going to be some Grand Final.
Have a look at the key match-ups across the park: up front you’ve got Thaiday against Scott, Adam Blair against James Tamou, Parker against Jason Taumalolo. At the back you’ve got Boyd versus Lachlan Coote; and around the halves you have Anthony Milford versus Michael Morgan, and Thurston against Ben Hunt – the experienced Queenslander against the young, up-and-coming Queenslander.
Neither the Broncos nor the Cowboys will die wondering with the football tonight. These teams both play to structures, but if the Thurstons and the Hunts see an opportunity they will be prepared to go away from structures and play the football.
There are two points that make this a very special Grand Final in my book – Justin Hodges’ farewell and the fact the Cowboys have never won a premiership and have been very unlucky in the finals series in recent years.
I go back a long time with Hodgo. He was there at the start of my career and we have remained best mates for the last 11 years.
The thing I like most about Hodgo and JT is that it’s all about the team. They are not about individual accolades.
Everyone saw the raw emotion and what it meant for JT to win a fourth Dally M Medal last week. The first thing JT said was that he wanted to thank his team.
Hodgo walked out of the judiciary last Tuesday night and said he was looking forward to getting back to the team.
Personally, I’m pleased for Hodgo that he gets the chance to leave the game on Grand Final Day. There are not too many players who get such an opportunity.
Will it be the Broncos or the Cowboys tonight? Plenty of people have asked for my opinion, but I’m on the fence for this one. I have very good mates on both sides.
The way I look at it, either way, Queensland is going to win.
*Greg Inglis is an Stadium Australia Ambassador. He was co-captain of the South Sydney Rabbitohs team who won the 2014 NRL Grand FInal.
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