SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES - APRIL 02: Sharks captain Paul Gallen argues with the referee as Robbie Farah of the Tigers looks on during the round five NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Cronulla Sharks at Campbelltown Sports Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

One does not require too much mathematical skill to realise the importance of the Sunday afternoon clash between Wests Tigers and Cronulla Sharks at Leichhardt Oval.

Those lucky enough to attend will watch on, full of sentimentality and history. They will observe something of a throwback to the rugby league of the past and the NRL's origins in the harbour city. Fundamentally, the match is a symbolic representation of what the game is all about; two Sydney teams slugging it out at a suburban ground in bright sunlight on a Sunday afternoon.

It is the way the game once was in Sydney and an event towards which many wish the game would revert. Sadly, that will not happen, with small doses such as the one we will receive on Sunday afternoon, unfortunately having to provide enough satisfaction for those old enough to remember the football of the 80's and 90's.

The match itself is of the simplest kind. Both teams sit on 24 competition points. There is no pressure from behind and a just lean chance of jumping the Broncos, who look likely to topple the Bulldogs in the final round.

Essentially, that translates into a simple equation. The winner advances to the finals and a potential crack at a weakened Manly. The loser salutes and leaves. Should an unthinkable draw play out, the Sharks would advance thanks to a superior for and against, yet in the modern age of golden point, that is unlikely.

The simplicity of the equation makes for potentially great theatre, with both sides destined to play a brand of football that reflects the sense of finality and 'no tomorrow' that will permeate both the build-up and the actual contest itself.

Perhaps the only complication to that simplicity is the emotion generated by the potential involvement of three individuals who will leave an indelible thumbprint on the game of rugby league.

Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah and Paul Gallen have played the game at the highest level for a combined 53 seasons. All have represented internationally and won an NRL Premiership. Farah and Gallen have significant state representation, whilst Marshall has 28 caps for New Zealand in tests.

The numbers do not lie, all three are champions of the modern game.

With Gallen and Farah confirmed as not going beyond 2019 in a playing capacity, and should Farah indeed play this weekend, the match morphs into what will either be a glorious victory that produces another week of involvement in which to savour the adoration of loving fans, or a sad defeat that ends a career.

Marshall's form has been so impressive of late that he has played his cards quite close to his chest; in the hope that there could be another season or two to eek out of his ageing body. There is, however, the chance that this too could be Marshall's last hoorah should the Sharks do the business against the Tigers on their home deck.

For the neutrals, it sets up an interesting decision in regards to which man/men they would prefer to see enjoy one final moment in the sun, one last tilt at the finals and the opportunity to farewell fans in the coming weeks.

Gallen's weekend turned sour last Sunday when the Raiders snatched the two points to muck up his farewell to Shark Park. He will never play there again. If social media was anything to go by, the broader rugby league community didn't appear to give two hoots.

With lingering thoughts of the Sharks' supplement saga and recent salary cap infringements no doubt fuelling sentiment there appeared to be little sympathy for Gallen.

In contrast, Farah appears to have much of the neutral support in his corner as he struggles to overcome an injury in the faint hope that he can indeed take to the Leichhardt turf one more time.

It appears that most would prefer to see Marshall and Farah take a final stroll around the sacred venue after a win, than witness a teary farewell for the Wests Tigers' champions after a loss, particularly if Farah is unable to take his place in the team.

Josh Reynolds has been named at hooker for the Tigers with Farah listed on an extended bench. Whispers suggest he is unlikely, however stranger things have happened.

Whilst there is uncertainty around Marshall's future and Farah's involvement this Sunday, one thing does appear quite certain.

The romance around the Tigers' long-time teammates' final match together and a potential finals appearance, has made their involvement in the final meaningful match of the home and away season the favoured story.

Paul Gallen will have a chance to ruin that story on Sunday afternoon and bask in his legend and achievement.

Personally, I'll be cheering on the Tigers.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Robbie Farah is largely the unsung hero of the Tigers. Robbie never got the limelight like PG did, he just kep’t his nose clean and did his job week in and week out. Robbie never used Peptides, he never gouged peoples stitches or started fights in games when things weren’t going his way. Robbie was never a part of a salary cap cheating team (you know what I mean), never won a highly suspect premiership and never worked for a coach that was banned twice. Robbie is far more of an idol for kids to look upto, a man to respect and a man with integrity that you wouldn’t mind your kids emulating. For mine, Robbie deserves to go out a winner.

  2. Gallen by a country mile. Of course tigers fans & those jealous of Gal will say otherwise., But in terms of effort, games, all game stats, blood, sweat, tears & being a ONE CLUB PLAYER, & not to mention being able to line up in this possible last game…. Its Gal all the way. End of story.

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