Kia ora cuz … any other week of the year that’s 'g’day mate' to you, but admit it - we’re all Kiwis this week. For so many years we’ve scoffed at each other’s accents and told jokes at each other’s expense, but now we’re united against a common enemy, and the old ANZAC spirit is back. Break out the bare feet and serve yourself some fush and chups - it’s a wuckid week to be a Warrior.
Just like any other NRL fan, I knew Manly was on the nose, but I hadn’t realised the depth and intensity of the hatred of the club until this week, when a huge proportion of true-blue NRL supporters from across Australia shifted their support to another country, rather than cheer on one of their own.
Even the Premier of New South Wales, Barry O’Farrell, couldn’t bring himself to support his state’s only remaining team when asked by Ken Sutcliffe live on National Nine News which club he was supporting. Kenny thought it was a no-brainer, but decades of political training kicked in, and the big Lib ducked and weaved like Benji Marshall heading for the try line, rather than be seen by voters to be cheering on the most-loathed team in the league.
In a way Manly brings it on themselves, putting itself in the position of “us against the world” to motivate and inspire them to reach the top. And it works … three grand finals in five years is not a bad achievement.
But Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler is only kidding himself with his claims of underdog status for this weekend. Asked by The Daily Telegraph who should be favourites, the man with the mane replied, “When you look at what they've done and how they are playing, they should definitely be the favourites. But it will be a 50/50 game.” The Warriors have never won the grand final, and just over a week before the big game TAB Sportsbet had Manly at $1.75 to win, and the Warriors at $7.00. Try and spin that Des.
I grew up in New Zealand and I love a true underdog, so it’s an easy choice for me this weekend. Even though I live in Sydney, I’ve been to Auckland many more times than I’ve been to Manly; somehow the Spit Bridge is more of a mental hurdle than the Tasman Sea. And I’m not alone in that. News reports covering the influx of Warriors fans flying into Sydney wondered publicly whether Manly supporters would finally stir themselves to cross the Spit Bridge and make for ANZ Stadium.
There the stage is set for an epic clash: the Warriors peaking at just the right moment, the Sea Eagles determined to lift a big middle finger to the world west of the Spit Bridge. One thing is certain: no matter who wins, the NRL trophy will be heading east, travelling over water to a far-away community that’s simply bursting at the seams with Kiwis.
NB The views expressed in this column are those of the author and are not an official view of the NRL.
Leila McKinnon, Channel 9 NRL.com