I've always wondered why people would want to “bring back the biff” to rugby league. But watching The Final Winter helped me see that it's not the on-field slugfests people miss but rather the passion they represent.

The film is set in the early 1980s. The Angels are on the radio, no-one thinks twice about driving with a beer in hand, and performance enhancing drugs mean a cigarette at half time.

We meet Newtown Jets star player Grub Henderson during a ferocious game against St George, whose golden boy, by the way, is his younger brother Trent.

Grub lashes out at Trent on the field, costing Newtown a spot in the finals and possibly ending his career. It leads to a week in which he realises that he's a dinosaur in a game that's being sold out.

I can't say I went into this with high hopes. Directors Brian Andrews and Jane Forrest are both first timers. Star Matthew Nable wrote it to be his debut film performance. Matthew Johns, best known as Reg Regan, has a major role. But The Final Winter's performances are authentic.

Nable, as actor and writer, walks a fine line with Grub to make him both a true believing hero and a self-pitying thug in need of a check up from the neck up.

There's fine work from Raelee Hill as Grub's long suffering wife, John Jarrett as the heartless new CEO, and Nathaniel Dean as the type of player who'll be the future of the game.

The footy scenes are stylish but bracing – you feel every thump – but the focus is on the well-drawn characters.

The Final Winter gets misty-eyed on occasion and restates its case once too often, but it's also an entertaining insight into one man's obsession at the end of an era.

It doesn't knock The Club off its perch as the best Australian movie about sport, but it's in same the ball park.

As a movie of two halves that gives 110 percent, this gets 3 1/2 stars. The Final Winter is in cinemas now.