Super Weekend Down Under: grand finals in 2 football leagues
It’s grand final weekend for the two biggest football leagues in Australia: One team will try to win a championship after losing the final last year; one of the others hasn’t been in a title match for 35 years.
Cue up the championship-starved Richmond Tigers against the Adelaide Crows on Saturday in the Australian Football League final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The Tigers haven’t won an Australian Rules football title since 1980, and lost to Carlton when they last appeared in a grand final in 1982.
On Sunday, the Melbourne Storm, who lost the National Rugby League final last year to Cronulla, take on the upstart North Queensland Cowboys in their title match at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.
The Cowboys have proven to be the surprises of the NRL playoffs, making the final from the eighth and final playoff spot and upsetting three teams along the way to the championship match.
The AFL final should attract around 95,000 to the MCG, the NRL championship match about 80,000:
Here are a few other things to know about the ultimate football games on Australian sport’s calendar.
NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY: The last time an AFL grand final featured no players with experience in a championship match was the first one – in 1898. The Crows lead the Tigers 23-12 in head-to-head matches, and Adelaide won by 76 points when the teams last met, in Adelaide in the sixth round in April this year. Adelaide hasn’t competed for the title since 1998, still a far cry from Richmond’s generational gap. ”There’s no doubt we go in as underdogs, that’s the harsh reality of it,” Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said.
ADVANTAGE MELBOURNE: The Storm have won 25 of their 35 matches against North Queensland, including 26-8 when the teams met a month ago in Townsville. But the Cowboys have become only the second team to qualify for the grand final from eighth place. ”They’ve continued to work hard and tried to get better as a team,” Cowboys coach Paul Green said. ”There was a period there where we weren’t getting it right … they stuck to their guns and I kept telling them eventually our luck will turn.”
THE STARS: Richmond will be led by midfielder Dustin Martin, who won the Brownlow Medal earlier this week as the AFL’s best and fairest player. Melbourne clinched first place in the NRL with three rounds to spare, and the Storm hope to send off retiring halfback Cooper Cronk as a premiership winner. Melbourne will be led by veteran captain Cameron Smith, who became the oldest player at 34 to win the Dally M Medal as the best player in the league on Wednesday.
THE TIPS: Adelaide and Melbourne go in as favorites but the big sentimental bets are going with the Tigers, who have fans with a lifetime of suffering waiting for a grand final win. And, of course, the surprising Cowboys from North Queensland. There’s no doubt who Australian golfer Karrie Webb will be supporting – her hometown of Ayr is about an hour’s drive south of Townsville, the home of the Cowboys. She’s been a vocal supporter of the team for years and has been tweeting her congratulations from international destinations and her home in Florida. ”Grand finals baby!!,” Webb tweeted after North Queensland beat the Sydney Roosters 29-16 in the semifinals last Saturday. ”Well done Boys! Bring on the Storm!!”
BIRDS OF A FEATHER?: Penguins at the Melbourne Aquarium picked the Crows to win the grand final over Richmond. The flightless gentoo and king penguins favored flavored fish cakes emblazoned with Adelaide’s red, blue and yellow colors. They eventually ate the Richmond ones with yellow-and-black colors.
AND FINALLY: AFL teams are big on their club songs, often played or sung at the stadium or in the dressing rooms. For those wanting to get into the mood for the AFL grand final, here is Richmond’ s, and this is the one sung by Adelaide supporters and players.