People - myself included, hence the blog - are prone to talking a lot of shit. It's what separates us from the dumb beasts. We are still dumb beasts, mind, but we have A LOT OF NOTHING TO SAY AND IT'S ALL TERRIBLY IMPORTANT. This has become fabulously apparent during this bloated September sports schedule. If September were a person it would be spread-eagled across a sofa with loosened pants - like you do after Christmas lunch? Yes, plenty of sport this September, which means miles and miles of newspaper copy picking over the excruciating miniature of every possible angle and also the conjuring up of some impossible angles, too. It's rich, superlative-ridden stuff and it makes for great reading if you're that way inclined.
I was sailing along happily, having dismissed the grand final's significance with a lazy hand swat and a scornful head toss ("Manly? Auckland? Pooh!") until I read some (thirty or forty odd) articles and found my indifference dissolving faster than a Sunday morning aspirin. Really, if seeing photos of Steve Matai projected onto the Harbour Bridge doesn't razz you up you need to check your pulse and your priorities, because it was an arresting and stirring sight. Bigger than God, and with better hair!
So. Sunday's Grand Final. Yes, it's Manly vs New Zealand, and no, you can't spin a silk purse out of a sow's ear but there's still good stuff to be had here. It just requires some rifling through the rubble of having one team everone hates and one team no one cares about in the grand final. I am happy to do that rifling. Here's what I've found.
1. Shaun Johnson vs Daly Cherry-Evans.
Everyone is getting plenty of froth and lather up over the fact that the game could well come down to a battle between these two rookie halfbacks, and that earlier this year Johnson was playing in the NSW cup - having now only played 15 first grade matches - while a year ago Cherry-Evans was playing in the QLD cup. Everyone is also excited over Johnson's razzle-dazzle. He shows-and-goes! He steps! He jinks! He's Stacey Jones, Andrew Johns, and Benji Marshall! Especially Benji Marshall! He does seem to have some of the mercurial Marshall magic. I know, I YouTubed him. He also has a lovely baby face - it's Ferris Bueller-esque. Also get this; he has never played against Manly before. There's something sweetly thrilling about all this. However. If your tastes don't run to baby faced Kiwi boys it will still be worth tuning in purely to see the head on Cherry-Evans. It's pin-esque. Yes, he is a pin head of the highest order. All pin heads are great - Novak Jokovich is especially awesome - but Cherry-Evans is particularly amusing because his pin head sits atop a disproportionately thick and muscular neck. It's remarkable really. In addition to this, he is a very sweetly spoken and well-mannered young man, which is nice. Lastly, he's a pretty okay player too. I mean, he makes everyone he plays against his bitch, so if that's more to your taste you should definitely watch.
2. Manly vs David Gallop.
This is actually deeply unpleasant, this business. Distasteful. The fact that two years of animosity between the NRL boss and Brett Stewart threatens to boil over on Sunday - and by 'boil over' I obviously mean that Stewart may well lose his barely-held-together shit during the official presentation and go postal on Gallop - is a disgrace and YES I DO FEEL LIKE ALAN JONES WHEN I USE THE WORD DISGRACE WHILE WORKING MYSELF INTO A TOWERING RAGE. God. This is why I try to avoid talking about this fued - it inflames my righteous ire to talkback radio-like proportions. Anyways. The possibility that this might actually happen on Sunday is not too far removed from the realm of reality due to the increasingly undeniable fact that Brett Stewart himself is now so far removed from the realm of reality. God help the guy. Nobody else can.
3 Manu Vatuvei.
He made his gold teeth by melting down his grandmother's gold rings, he rocks a rat's tail like in a way that only one other man in the NRL can and he employs a ghetto-fabulous finger-waggle as his try-celebration of choice - what's not to love? Nothing! There is nothing not to love about Manu! He's Manu, muhfuggers!
4. Des Hasler vs Ivan Cleary.
This is night to day, sweet to sour, Betty to Veronica type stuff. While Des Hasler turns into a raving, head-set abusing piece of meat while encased in the coach's box, Ivan Cleary sits sphinx-like in stony, poker faced silence. Both are equally unnerving. The difference here is that outside the high-pressure confines of the coach's box Cleary is as humourless and hollow-eyed as Dessie is gruff and flinty and endearing. I love a man of few words but I just cannot abide Ivan Cleary. He is reptilian and glacial and when he does speak it sounds like he swallowed a computer manual at some key point in his development. Des Hasler, on the other hand, gives charmingly off-kilter interviews, rips doors off their hinges when his team plays badly and has that ever so slightly threatening air that those of us with an unreconstructed wish to be thrown over a man's shoulder find appealing. Plus, he has that fabulous, incredible mane of hair. He's basically the Paddle-Pop Lion. So, hands down, he's already won. Worth watching to see his hysterics in the box, though.
5. Mnaly vs Everybody Else.
Rugby league is a tribal game. Less so nowadays, but still, it's why we love it. Manly make out like they understand and embrace this fundamental fact but I'm not entirely convinced they do. You know that old thing of there being two teams to support; your own, and whoever happens to be playing Manly? The Manly club and Manly fans over on the insular peninsula have always claimed to pride themselves on being that team that everybody hates but the slightest suggestion that it might actually be true sets their insecurities aflame to such an extent that we have this untidy saga of resentment and hostility slowly unfolding over two seasons and showing no signs of abating. Stewart, you deadeyed dumbshit, you were suspended for four matches - TWO YEARS AGO - for getting trollyed at your season launch. Let it go, for chrissakes. Write it on a piece of paper, if you can manage that, tie it to a balloon, release the balloon into the sky and LET IT THE FUCK GO. Enough already! It just really grinds my gears, y'know?
Obviously, then, I can't possibly go for Manly on Sunday. Football blinds me to my principles but even I have limits.
Okay. There's my five reasons, picked from the rubble, to watch the game on Sunday.
Do with them what you will coz come Monday you're on your own again.