‘Mini’ deserves the maximum reward
DESPITE having tipped the Roosters to win Sunday's NRL grand final, neither team tugs at my heartstrings and on that basis I'm neutral as to who lifts the Provan-Summons trophy.
On the basis they have been the best team all year, the Roosters deserve to win.
But few teams in recent years have shown the tenacity and pure guts of the Sea Eagles, and a victory by them should forever rid them of their dreaded silvertail tag.
There is, however, one player taking a damning statistic into the grand final that he does not deserve.
If the Roosters lose, skipper Anthony Minichiello will become the first player in the history of the game to have lost five grand finals.
A one-club veteran, "Mini" has been with the Roosters for 17 seasons and lost his first decider in 2000, against the Broncos.
He lost again in 2003, 2004 and 2010, sharing the ignominy of those four losses with former teammates Brad Fittler, Craig Fitzgibbon and David Barnhill.
But at least he has won a title decider - in 2002.
And he is one of just two of the 15 Roosters on Sunday to have previously played in a grand final and won.
The other, ironically, is Sonny Bill Williams - a member of the Bulldogs team in 2004 that inflicted one of those four defeats on the Roosters fullback.
The pre-eminent reason Minichiello does not deserve to be in a beaten side again is that he has been an ornament to the game during a period when the image of rugby league has been trashed by boofheads.
Apart from an ugly tackle on Josh Dugan last year and an episode involving a loaned phone almost a decade ago, I cannot recall a negative incident involving Mini in those 17 years.
He's a champion bloke and a terrific player, and deserves to dish out some retribution.
Fans will feel pinch
IN THE early '80s in a piece I penned for Rugby League Week, the late Senator Ron McAuliffe predicted that in time, rugby league spectators would be in boutique stadia, sitting in padded chairs with their own personal TV screens and served food and refreshments by waiters.
But I doubt this grand visionary would have imagined that three decades down the track, blue-collar workers would be priced out of attending his baby - State of Origin games.
He would be aghast at that prospect.
But that is exactly what is happening. And while it is a shame the regular rugby league supporter will more than likely be unable to afford an Origin ticket in the future, it is a fact of life.
State of Origin is no longer just another game of footy. It has morphed in to a marquee event, like the Melbourne Cup and the Australian Tennis Open.
Prime seats at Suncorp Stadium for next year will supposedly sell - with add-ons - for $370, which is not chicken feed. But neither is $175 for a stand seat at the Melbourne Cup, $200 for a Pink Concert or $250 to see Andre Rieu.
Hopefully, with the additional funds raised from these inflated prices, the QRL ploughs some much-needed dollars in to bush footy.
Worth crowing about
SINCE the day he could not name Cameron Smith as Kangaroos captain, NRL chief executive David Smith has been vilified by sections of the Sydney media. Every poor refereeing decision, each errant player and all negatives in the game are evidently his fault.
Unlike his predecessor David Gallop, Smith is not a walking, talking frontman for the game.
His name is not in the news
papers every day, his dial not on TV each night and he prefers to go about his business away from the glare of the public.
And at Tuesday night's Dally M awards night he was very low key.
Smith gave a short, positive and informative address, then departed the stage.
He did not, as Gallop did and AFL boss Andrew Demetriou does, count down the player votes.
That job was handed to Russell Crowe, a much bigger personality, a devoted fan of the game and a rugby league benefactor to boot.
The appearance of the Academy Award winner gave the night a touch of much-needed class and credibility that the NRL could never buy, yet the negative brigade who have mocked Smith have been conspicuous by their silence.
Despite a tirade of negativity towards Smith - and ARL Commission chair John Grant - the game is in good hands.