Fans of each NRL team competing in the finals will now be feeling all the emotion and passion that comes to the surface when rugby league enters spring.
In the modern game, where form and momentum mean everything, supporters of each and every team have the right to fantasise about a fairy tale run home, regardless of where they are placed on the ladder.
The media will be searching for that narrative at each club; the story they will consistently run with if a team does start an impressive charge over the next month. It is the story around which the first post-match interview will be based on grand final day and one that will play a key part in the post-script and wash up to the season.
All eight clubs have that story waiting to unfold.
#1 Melbourne Storm
Despite appearing as somewhat unromantic, ruthless and calculated, another Craig Bellamy triumph does, in fact, hold great potential emotion. Since the dark days of 2006-10, the Storm has not missed the finals and let’s be frank, are consistently the best team in the competition. However, that relentless consistency should never undermine the coach’s brilliance.
A win in 2019 would mean four consecutive grand final appearances, two premierships in three years and three minor premierships from four. From the depths of salary cap corruption, Bellamy has built an empire in Melbourne and established himself as the greatest modern coach; perhaps the best we have seen.
#2 Sydney Roosters
Similar to Melbourne, the Roosters’ omnipotence in the top eight over recent years has been astonishing. Over the past seven NRL seasons, the Chooks have finished either as minor premiers or in second place six times and taken home the biggest prize on two occasions.
Cooper Cronk’s arrival at Bondi loomed as a potential masterstroke and his subsequent superhuman performance in last season’s decider confirmed that line of thinking. Should the little man be able to once again steer the Roosters to premiership glory, his reputation and legacy as one of the greatest thinking and strategic halves will only be enhanced.
#3 South Sydney Rabbitohs
Should the Bunnies be able to regather themselves, recuperate and re-stock for the umpteenth time this season and secure Wayne Bennett another premiership, it will be the ultimate story of resilience. With multiple and consistent injury concerns and numerous players spending far too much time at the judiciary, the Rabbitohs have rarely appeared settled.
Once again the cardinal and myrtle will go into Friday night’s clash against the Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground with considerable disruption. Sam Burgess will miss the game after another stupid indiscretion, Dane Gagai’s hamstring strain last Thursday looked worrying and concussion protocols may prevent others from taking to the field.
Should Bennett be able to get his troops over the line this season, it will be on the back of another coaching masterclass from the wily old veteran.
#4 Canberra Raiders
Despite an awful stumble against the Warriors on Saturday afternoon that now compels the Raiders to a trip down south to face the Storm at AAMI Park, Canberra finally has a football team of which they can be proud. Amazingly, this has been achieved with a man at the helm so often derided as a coach, with many consistently questioning his abilities.
Ricky Stuart has guided the green machine to 15th, 10th, 2nd, 10th, 10th and now 4th in his six years at the helm. Not a particularly sparkling record, but on the back of a dominant forward pack and the guile of Josh Hodgson, many believe the Raiders are potentially the strongest threat to the top two. It would truly be the re-emergence of Stuart should Canberra claim a much-awaited premiership.
#5 Parramatta Eels
The blue and gold fairy tale is something of a quirky one and based around infrastructure. The remarkably impressive Bankwest Stadium is nothing but quality and when Parramatta Stadium was first opened on the same site in 1986, the Eels went on to win their fourth title.
If something similar happens this season, the romance of the coincidence would not be missed. Brad Arthur has battled away for six seasons as head coach; losing more games than he has won. Should a stadium be given too much credit for an unlikely Parramatta premiership, it would be a little unfair on the well-respected coach.
#6 Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
The wheels appear to have fallen off the Sea Eagles’ apple cart. As if the absences of Tom Trbojevic and Joel Thompson weren’t bad enough. Now Des Hasler receives news that Curtis Sironen’s season is over and Martin Taupau will most likely miss the first week of the finals through suspension.
Dr Des has pulled the rabbit from his hat on a few occasions this season. Should he do it again and bring the trophy to Brookvale under such trying circumstances, the entire NRL community would be in utter shock.
#7 Cronulla Sharks
Perhaps the most enigmatic and difficult team to read in the top eight has been the Sharks. On a good day, they look like premiership contenders. On a bad afternoon, a rabble. At any sign of a glorious run home after their impending win against Manly in the Elimination Final, the story will be ‘Gall’.
Paul Gallen turned 38 years of age just a few weeks back. For an NRL footballer, he is bloody old, but also the inspirational leader at Cronulla. The torrent of tears as Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Gallen embrace at ANZ Stadium should the Sharks manage a second premiership, would be a front-page designers’ dream.
#8 Brisbane Broncos
The jury is still a little out on Anthony Seibold and his team has a poor record against top eight opposition in 2019. After a recent spat with the Rabbitohs’ coaching staff and a widely held belief that Brisbane will make a quick exit from the finals, any victory would be a surprise.
The Broncos were towelled up by the Bulldogs on Saturday night to end their season with a whimper; thus setting up a trip to Bankwest Stadium to face the Eels. Should Seibold’s team move beyond that stage and into contention, many would be stunned. His young side winning a premiership in 2019 would potentially be the greatest fairy tale in modern rugby league and put bluntly, will not happen.