Almanac Rugby League – Finals Week 3, 2016: A week of underdogs in both codes


By Nick Kossatch


What a week for the underdog. In both codes.


The NRL, where the Cronulla Sharks upstaged the mighty Cowboys to progress to the big dance.


Then on Saturday night, as a passionate Port Adelaide power supporter, my allegiances shifted to the Western Bulldogs.


This club was shot. Shot after losing to Freo in round 23. The Doggies rose to thrash West Coast two weeks later in the elimination final.


Remember, no Robert Murphy, no Mitch Wallace, no Lin Jong, and of course the sanction of ex-bomber Stewart Crameri. The smarting Hawks awaited and the triple premiers began as expected. But led by snarling Liam Picken’s three goals, the Hawks couldn’t handle the heat and Marcus Bontempelli schooled his master Luke Hodge. And twice to lead the Dogs to a famous win.


Then the newest franchise, from the western suburbs of Sydney, were poised to justify the AFL wanting to have the Giants qualify for its first AFL grand final berth. The battle of the bridge decider was what the AFL wanted.


Again adversity faced the Western Bulldogs. Firstly brave-heart ruckman Jordan Roughead copped the mother of all Falcons to leave the field with a bleeding eyeball. Secondly, an in form ruckman in the form of Greater Western Sydney enforcer Shane Mumford was ready to mummify the Dogs’ chances.


Tom Boyd, signed on the big bucks to boot goals, was assigned the task to nullify ‘Big Mummy’. And oh boy didn’t big Tom step up. As the golden boys from Sydney’s west began to out sledge and outplay the ‘Scrays midway in the final quarter, explosive Jason Johannisen pounced on a ball like a dog on a bone. His exquisitely-laid out pass to the path of the ‘Bont’ wrested momentum back Western Bulldogs way.


Destiny was established and the Doggies were not to let this slip after seven heartbreaking prelim final losses. Of course there were other heroes such as Clay Smith. A rough diamond who encountered rough times with three knee reconstructions and the death of a close mate earlier this week. He played a massive part with six of the Dogs’ goals, four to himself.


There’s Tory Dickson. Dead eye and underrated, he produced a pearler and tore into Heath Shaw’s psyche with four goals. Jake Stringer lifted when his team needed him most. Wow, two rock stars set the stage this Saturday afternoon with the Swans’ Buddy Franklin and Stringer to sing to the tune of 100 thousand fans.


This weekend could be a weekend of firsts. Potentially after a 55-year drought, Western Bulldogs could take the silverware back to Melbourne’s western suburbs.


And for the Sharkies, Sydney’s beachside suburb could harbour Cronulla’s first premiership since the club joined the NRL 50 years ago. Sharks coach Shane Flanagan and Bullies mentor Luke Beveridge share a common theme. Three years ago Flanagan was barred for a year after the peptides supplements drama that left the club’s future clouded. He resurrected the club with off cuts from other NRL clubs. Luke Lewis, sacked by the Panthers. Ben Barba, dumped by the Broncos joined ex-Rooster James Maloney at the Sharks. And Michael Ennis rounded out the Sharks’ armoury after Cantebury Bulldogs released him.


Western Bulldogs was on its knees in 1989, but it replicated a working class determination which wanted a club to symbolise a blue collar institution. And just like the Bulldogs banner read, Beveridge’s brigade will be a focus group made of sheer blood in boots. And the Sharks and Bulldogs dreams could be packaged into a premiership cup.


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