NRL Grand Final preview - lessons for Manly

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Journey Man
Manly could probably learn quite a bit from the strategies of the two sides that will contest this weekend’s NRL Grand Final.

Last weekend saw the demise of the two favoured teams, the St George Dragons and the Parramatta Eels. Both sides have pursued a big-spending policy in recent years, relying on big name talent and the money generated by a rich Leagues Club to buy a Premiership. So far both have failed.

In contrast, the two teams that will contest this weekend’s Grand Final, the Wests Tigers and the North Queensland Cowboys, have taken a very different approach.

2005 is the first time that the Wests Tigers have made the NRL finals in the history of the merged entity, formed by the marriage of the Western Suburbs Magpies and Balmain Tigers in 1999.

Recent years have been unkind to the club. The early years were blighted by ill-discipline. Under coach Terry Lamb the Tigers became a virtual halfway house for a range of talented but underperforming players. Lamb saw fit to tap into their mongrel psyche and encouraged the “bad boy� approach.

Who can forget John Hopoate and his wayward fingers, Kevin McGuiness and Craig Field and their drug suspensions and the constant niggle of players such as the skipper, Darren Senter.

Ill-discipline cost the club on the field with the side leading the way in penalties conceded and suspensions for foul play. Off the field the club’s image took such a battering that they struggled to secure a sponsor.

Enter Tim Sheens. Sheens came to the club, ironically, after being sacked by the North Queensland Cowboys. He was hired by an administration that had become tired of underperforming, precocious talent and the lack of discipline on and off the field.

Sheens put a broom through the place – getting rid of most of the players that had been a bad influence.

Wisely, he retained a hard core of senior players who he knew had character, admirable personal lives, discipline and a strong sacrificial work ethic. In short, good team men.

Players of the ilk of Mark O’Neill and John Skandalis – good, hard and honest toilers who could inspire the next generation.

Then the club set about surrounding these good men with young talent looking for an opportunity. Players that would do what it takes to succeed. Youth, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

This vibrant crop of players took the opportunity with both hands, soaked up all that they were taught, and have taken the NRL by storm.

A hard core of experienced and committed people surrounded by youth, eager to learn and reveling in the moment and the opportunity? Sounds like a plan to me.

Further north there is another team playing with vibrancy and enthusiasm – the North Queensland Cowboys.

Their coach, Graham Murray came to the club in 2002 after being sacked less than twelve months after taking the Roosters to an improbable Grand Final.

North Queensland entered the competition in 1995 and had earned a reputation as a superannuation pay-out for players past their prime looking for one final pay cheque. The relaxed and idyllic surrounds of Townsville also seemed to sap players’ desire and the club gathered languished at the bottom of the table for nearly a decade.

It was not for a lack of talent. North Queensland has always been a hot-bed of quality Rugby League players and the Cowboys enjoy a huge nursery of quality up and comers. The challenge for Murray was to harness this talent, and weed out the players that lacked the desire to succeed.

Again, the broom came out, and a welter of underperforming players was shown the door. However, in the case of the Cowboys there was not really a hard core of senior men to retain to be an inspiration to the next generation.

So it was that the Cowboys set out to sign the kind of player from other clubs that would form the nucleus of example and sacrifice. Skipper Paul Rauhihi was lured from the Bulldogs to kick off the process. Paul Bowman, a foundation man at the club, was promoted beyond his years. Travis Norton came to the club last year whilst hard man Kevin Campion was lured from the New Zealand Warriors immediately after their Grand Final appearance in 2002.

They all had one thing in common. They were far from the most talented in the NRL. However, they bought experience, dedication and sheer, bloody-minded hard-headedness. Again, they were prepared to do whatever it took to be successful – even if that meant personal sacrifice.

And they were also prepared to pass on that knowledge and toughness to the younger players in the ranks. Positive role-models committed to teaching those younger.

It was the right reign to pull. Leading by example these players have instilled the same discipline and commitment to the wealth of young talent coming through the junior system.

Just a few years later the Cowboys have swept to their first Grand Final appearance with a similar youthful enthusiasm and senior intensity as that of their opponents on the day.

It’s worth noting that there’ll be few “bad boys� present this Sunday (especially as the one candidate, Carl Webb, managed to get himself suspended for king-hitting Ryan Hoffman in Round 26!)

Learning from failure, seniors setting a good example and youth eager to learn? I like that combination!

As for who will win? I must admit a slight leaning towards the Cowboys for the simple matter that I grew up in Townsville and also played football with their interchange player, Mitchell Sergeant – the boy from Canowindra.

Cowboys by 10.


First Grader
Nice namedrop at the end :)

I also think the Cowboys will win but because they have more experienced big game players.


First Grader
Yeah Matas taught him everything he knows :)

to be honest he was highly regarded in Group 10 before he headed to the big smoke Sargent that is not MAtas :)


Journey Man
He was moonlighting in Union when I played with him. It was very hush hush as Parra would have had kittens had they known.

He was on a scholarship with the Eels then.
Team P W L PD Pts
16 13 3 125 32
16 11 5 116 28
17 11 6 225 26
17 11 6 125 26
16 9 7 65 24
16 9 7 48 24
17 9 7 67 23
17 9 8 1 22
17 9 8 -56 22
17 8 9 -81 20
16 7 9 -93 20
17 7 9 -32 19
17 7 10 9 18
16 6 10 -59 18
16 6 10 -104 18
17 4 13 -153 12
17 4 13 -203 12
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