The NRL finals are almost upon us and this weekend is the last round of the regular season.
It’s a great time of year and I’m mostly looking forward to the change in intensity and the speed of the game. Sometimes it’s been a little cringe-worthy watching some of the bottom teams and the way they’ve been playing. If I'm honest, it hasn’t been a very good advertisement for the game.
But this Thursday, round 25 starts with the perfect entrée ahead of the finals, when the Rabbitohs host the Roosters in Sydney.
They’re traditional rivals and two Sydney teams who have such a passionate past, and it’s just perfect for coming into the finals and having two of the top four teams, hopefully providing an example of what semi-final football is going to be. They’ve got a lot to play for too and the coaches will be wanting flex their muscles coming in towards semi-final football.
I’m looking forward to that coaching battle between Trent Robinson and Wayne Bennett, and Wayne’s won a few battles lately. He won his big one up in Brisbane and seeing clips of him dancing around in the rooms afterwards was great fun.
But I think for this Thursday’s game it’s going to be on a different level. We’re gonna see the Roosters, who are a powerhouse team and they love starting fast and they love blowing teams off the park early on. Then you’ve got South Sydney with Wayne who wants to see his team grind a game of football out and test teams and try and play them out of the game by forcing errors.
They’ve got totally different structures and it’s just exciting that these teams are in the top four and getting ready for finals.
Well done to Manly, but I don't see them in the Grand Final
Out of the weekend just gone, Manly’s taken a massive hit.
I was backing them as one of the dark horses to make it to the grand final but losing ‘Turbo’ Tom Trbojevic at the back because of injury, that makes it hard. Add in the loss of Joel Thompson due to a broken arm and it gets even harder.
They’ve had a tough few years though and even just to be back in the finals is great for them. Des Hasler’s returned and done a great job, the players know where the bar is and they’re playing better as a unit and a team.
When we had Joel Thompson on Over the Black Dot, he was talking about how everyone’s accountable at the club. They do a lot of analysis on the team and also individually. The club’s got itself a bit of a ‘No D***ead Policy’.
For them to make the finals is awesome, but I don’t see them in the grand final.
They play the Eels though on Friday and for everyone, this weekend is about ticking all your boxes. This is about moving forward as a team. You’ve done all the training, you’ve done your pre-season, you can’t get any stronger, you can’t get any fitter, so it comes down to how badly you want it.
During the year I wrote about how a lot of teams went through plateau phases before or after Origin. Teams were on a roller coaster and some teams on the bottom like Newcastle were hitting five games in a row and expecting to be a top-eight team. The hype went around that then all of a sudden these final four or five games, the top teams ramped it back up.
The best teams are always around the mark at this time of year. The coaches know how to manage their players and they cop a lot of criticism but coaches like Trent Robinson know what they’re doing. People were bagging him earlier in the year but you look at their results and now they’re hitting their straps.
If you're playing in your final, make the most of it
It’s something that is reflected right around the country, in so many sports. On a personal level, I’m lucky, and thrilled, to be into a grand final with Wellington Cowboys. We’re taking on Dubbo CYMS in the Group 11 decider on Sunday in Dubbo.
I wrote a few weeks ago about how special it was to be playing with Wellington and how the whole experience has helped me re-discover my love for rugby league.
But for anyone in a grand final, you’ve got to try and make the most of it. It doesn’t matter what grand final you’re playing in, or the level, or assumed quality, playing in a grand final is a massive achievement. It’s a big deal for the club and the players.
You’ve put all of the work in and ridden the highs and lows, then when it comes to the finals, you’ve got to be at your best every week. Then when you get to the grand final, it comes down again to who wants it the most.
The success we’ve had in Wellington and for me to be a part of that, we’re ticking our goals, we’re ticking our boxes and showing people, through sport, that Wellington has so much to offer.
Sport has the power to do so much and that’s why I love it. With important topics like racism and drugs or social perceptions, it’s usually sport which has the power to come out in front and help people make change and express things. It’s often overlooked in politics and government, but sport leads the way in a lot of that stuff and I’m just happy that I’m able to be a part of Wellington.
For them to make the grand final after all of the bad stages, the town’s in such a buzz and I feel that we’re kicking big goals.
Timana Tahu is a former rugby league, rugby union player and dual international, husband, father and a vegan advocate and panellist for NITV's Over the Black Dot.
Over The Black Dot airs Tuesdays, 8.30pm