IF tonight’s First Utility Super League Grand Final is half as good as last week’s NRL version then there will be a lot of sated, happy rugby league viewers come 8pm.
What a sporting contest that was, North Queensland Cowboys edging Brisbane Broncos 17-16 in the first-ever golden point extra-time finale. To get to that point, the indefatigable Cowboys – playing in a maiden all-Queensland Grand Final – had scored a try in the very last second of normal time to level but, if that was not enough drama, it was left to the golden boy Johnathan Thurston to kick from the touchline to win it.
After an interminable length of time, adjusting himself, telling up-close cameramen to back off, removing his head-gear, putting it back on again, the little general – who had essentially played on one leg – finally arrowed his kick towards the uprights. It hit a post.
He didn’t miss soon after, though, when Brisbane’s deeply unfortunate Ben Hunt made a howler by dropping the extra-time kick-off immediately gifting the predatory Thurston a chance to etch his name into folklore once more which he duly accepted.
It all made Sam Burgess’s heroics 12 months earlier in that epic, incident-packed South Sydney win over Cantebury seem a little mundane and standard.
It was simply that good. Best of all, though, was sitting back safe in the knowledge these two terrific rugby league sides – has a team ever played better than Brisbane in a Grand Final and lost? – would now be heading our way in just a few months’ time.
Confirmation arrived this week that the two Queensland giants plus the NRL minor premiers Sydney Roosters, where England coach Steve McNamara is an assistant, would indeed feature here in the 2016 World Club Series in February.
Granted, there is always a worry Super League may endure a 3-0 whitewash as it did during the inaugural competition earlier this year but, truthfully, so what?
If it means seeing the likes of Thurston, Hunt, Anthony Milford, Adam Blair and co live in stadiums along the M62, national pride can go out of the window.
In all fairness, I do think the hosts will be better equipped next season to get nearer parity although we won’t know the final make-up of fixtures until after Old Trafford.
Thurston’s Cowboys against Rhinos at Headingley does have a nice air to it, though...
Grand Finalists Wigan Warriors and Leeds are both included and the third Super League spot goes to St Helens.
As Leeds claimed two of three possible qualification positions, the Super League Board decided to invite Saints to take part.
This was on the basis they reached both the Super League semi-final and Challenge Cup semi-final in the 2015 season, “have a strong history in the World Club Challenge and will add value to the 2016 tournament.” The action will kick-off on Friday, February 19, when St Helens play Sydney Roosters at Langtree Park.
That match will also celebrate the 40th anniversary of the inaugural World Club Challenge involving both teams. Saturday, February 20, will then see the Super League Grand Final runners-up play Brisbane before the 2016 World Club Challenge is decided when the Super League champions face the NRL victors North Queensland.
Admittedly, I am ready for a rugby league rest after tonight but still... roll on 2016!