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The Sydney Morning Herald

Risk and the Roosters factor

Author: Roy Masters
Date: 21/08/2000
Words: 1077
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 21
A bewildering weekend of fortunes and bullruns has delivered an intriguing grand final: Brad Fittler's team from the city of high-rollers versus the out-of-town Broncos juggernaut.

Games of skill or games of chance? The combination of lottery luck and the desperation of the gambler has set up an absorbing grand final between Sydney and Brisbane on Sunday at the Olympic stadium, following two anxiety-laced matches at the weekend.

The Broncos attacked Parramatta yesterday with all the subtlety of bull elephants in a mating season and the Eels adopted a conservative strategy of persistently seeking overlaps on the edge of the field, but as the scorelines became closer strategy was surrendered and risk was rampant.

Everyone knows if you put the knife to your throat too many times you'll eventually cut it, but tell that to the players in Sunday's final game of the year!

Compounding risk is the bizarre decision-making of the officials, adding a confusing mix to the outcome of these late-season games. Midway through the second half of the Brisbane-Parramatta game at the Olympic stadium yesterday, Broncos replacement Shaun Berrigan seemingly scored a try when the impact of two Eels forced him over the line.

He had been on the field only two minutes and, with Brisbane leading 10-6, his ``try" would have provided a buffer against a resurgent Parramatta.

But after almost as many replays as there have been repeats of Seinfeld episodes, video referee Graeme West ruled ``no try".

Only a few minutes earlier a stadium official had flashed ``penalty try" up on the big screen after the Eels had scored in the corner.

He had pressed the wrong button, meaning this is not a person we should put in charge of a nuclear silo should the threat of World War III ever return.

The no-try decision momentarily deflated Brisbane and lifted Parramatta, and in the 70th minute Eels centre David Vaealiki shrugged off the Broncos' Ben Ikin to slip the ball to his unmarked winger Jason Moodie.

The conversion attempt of fullback Clinton Schifcofske traced a confident arc towards the posts before it drifted to the left, preventing a drawn scoreline.

Vaealiki had been given the ball by Parramatta's ubiquitous utility Dennis Moran, yet it was Moran who lost possession deep in his own territory shortly after the kick-off.

Brisbane second-rower Brad Thorn then crashed over from near the ruck for the final scoreline of 16-10, the conversion attempt of Michael DeVere bouncing back from the upright, denying the Broncos the buffer they spent the game seeking.

If these kicks part validate what coaches have been saying for eons football is a game of inches the tenet was confirmed the previous evening at Sydney Football Stadium.

Roosters captain Brad Fittler twice risked manoeuvres in the second half which led to tries and demonstrated to his young teammates the urgency he was desperately seeking to instil.

As the Roosters attempted to claw back from 16-2, he intercepted an Andrew Johns pass for a try and steered a long ball to his flank which itself could have been seized.

The wobbly ball fortuitously arrived in the hands of Matt Sing, the conversion giving the Roosters a 10-point buffer.

You can call him Freddy the gambler, or Fiddler on the Roof of the rugby league world because he could end the year earning unparalleled honours: captain of a premiership team; leader of Australian and NSW teams which defeated the Kiwis and Queensland respectively, by record margins; and skipper of a victorious World Cup team.

The National Rugby League's accountants are not happy with a Brisbane-Sydney grand final because it combines an out-of-town team with one of the league's smallest crowd-pullers.

Perhaps there won't be as many spectators as a Newcastle-Parramatta grand final, but the Roosters surely have a few thousand more fans than they had last week.

The game on Sunday is arguably the most mystifying of the potential match-ups.

It won't have the thud of a Broncos-Knights match, nor the innocent passion of an Eels-Roosters encounter.

Indeed, it could be closer than a meeting of a relatively fresh Newcastle against a spent Parramatta.

It combines Fittler willing to risk and Gorden Tallis desperate to destroy, such was the Brisbane forward's Godzilla-like charges, perhaps inspired by the soundtrack of the movie which greeted him as he ran out onto the field.

This is a grand final which offers mystery, romance and the unexpected.

It is another Packer-Murdoch battle, with trillionaire Kerry, a Roosters supporter, against zillionaire Rupert, majority owner of the Broncos.

The live match broadcast yesterday arose from a possibility which could have caused some angst between these two: the option of offering it to pay TV.

When the NRL learned Channel9 planned to telecast the match at 6.30pm, owing to its cricket commitments, the league raised the option of Optus and Foxtel also showing the game. Nine then decided to televise it live, an option that also guaranteed a boost in advertising revenue.

The Olympic stadium almost hosted two football finals on successive days.

In an incredible bungle, both the NRL and the NSW Rugby Union were allowed to book the SFS for matches on Saturday.

The NRL secured it for its grand-final qualifier between Newcastle and Sydney in the evening and the NSWRU booked it for the Sydney grand final between Randwick and Sydney University in the afternoon.

The Sydney Cricket Ground Trust attempted to resolve the matter by transferring one of the matches to the Olympic stadium, requesting Athletics Australia vacate the venue for the final day of its Games track and field trials.

However, AA described the financial offer to move as ``a few pennies" and the rugby grand final was shifted to Waratah Stadium, Concord.

NRL chief executive David Moffett confirmed the double booking but insisted it was never an option for the game on Saturday night to be shifted.

``This was justified by the fact we sold every single ticket we could sell [28,000] to the match," Moffett said. The crowd yesterday was 31,087.


Who:Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos

When:Sunday, August 27, 2.40pm

Where:Olympic stadium, Homebush Bay

Betting: Brisbane $1.50, Sydney $2.50 (SportOdds)

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