Nanjing Night Net

THE Knights NSW Cup team and Wyong Roos have made the grand final! A local derby. Good stuff.

Congratulations should be extended to connections from both teams representing, as they are, the combined central and north coasts with distinction in the big show on Sunday afternoon in Sydney.

But getting to this point and winning are two vastly different challenges for the guys.

One is the marathon – three months of pre-season plus 26 exhaustive rounds.

The other is the one-off, live-the-moment performance of your life.

For Newcastle, bitter memories of last year’s substandard performance in the corresponding match against Penrith no doubt drives those still involved and hopefully challenges the new soldiers.

Coach Matt Lantry has his players on a roll from seventh place, but they were unconvincing in last week’s semi-final against Mounties.

They will need to lift their intensity or a well drilled, give-ya-nothin’ side like Wyong threaten to swamp the Knights late.

Wyong aligned recently with the Roosters. They missed the minor premiership this year only on points difference and are thriving in the expert hands of serial premiership-winning coach Rip Taylor, in part due to the additional resources now at his disposal. One of the form teams all year, they must start favourites.

I’ve a declared soft spot for the Knights but wish both clubs a hard but fair battle befitting the biggest day of the year. May the best team on the day win.

I’VE attempted to bring what I thought was my not insignificant knowledge of the game to bear picking winners in recent weeks. Hopeless. But surely among my fair-minded readers some will agree a portion of blame lay at the feet of a few very average calls (but you get that).

Meanwhile to week three.

The Roosters head to Brisbane tonight in a game many thought would be the grand final match-up next week.

Significantly, the Roosters, as only they can, have covered for major injury absences Mitchell Pearce and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. Right on cue, Kevin ‘‘Horrie’’ Hastings’ young bloke arrives on the seen like he’s old Horrie with a bad haircut.

Likewise, Boyd Cordner has risen to the occasion assuming the leadership mantel from Hargreaves, himself becoming the most damaging forward in the game.

I pick the Roosters.

Melbourne in Melbourne between 8pm and 9.30pm spells wet, slippery and cold. How well Johnathan Thurston’s boys adapt to the huge change in conditions will weigh heavily on this result.

They’re smart and well coached, these Cowboys. But if they get caught in the Storm’s wrestling web, their tempo and flow will be upset and their chances will ebb away.

My tips is the Storm.

Looked at another way, Queensland’s entire representation gone in 24 hours. No chance, right? What would I know?

I NOTE the lucky escape of a few young footballers earlier in the week and am not surprised at the procession of well intentioned investigations that will no doubt ensue. Thankfully the boys will recover and a lesson will be hard learned.

The police, the NRL integrity unit, the Souths club, the Fourth Estate and the league public at large will all make up their own minds as to what happened and what should be done about it.

From my vantage, the truth may be not much more than a group of young blokes preferred to stay at home, avoid the cost and any drama and enjoy each other’s company. A quiet get-together after a long, painful season.

Nothing to see here except legally supplied pain-killing pharmaceuticals might have been ingested beyond their prescribed limits. Reports have it that the two best mates were nearly dead (by misadventure) mates.

By nature young men of certain persuasions will experiment and take risks. It’s the reason many of this cohort succeed at modern sporting or business pursuits. This risk taking is as old as Adam and Eve.

So if one or more of our sons or daughters have needs beyond pain management, say, to enjoy a party sober, surrounded by drunken mates, he or she will find a way. Whether we all like it or not.

In response, punishments have and can be applied with limited and sometimes adverse effects. My view, as left-field as it may be, is pragmatism and honesty. This pretence that all drugs and all drug users are somehow bogey-man ‘‘bad’’ is outdated, ineffective and can sweep these problems under the carpet.

Why can’t people at risk of taking these cocktails feel comfortable asking qualified people for accurate information on dosages relative to body weight, allergies, energy drinks or whatever? At least their physician or chemist will be better informed about their patient.

Risk takers need information that is health-based, not dogma-based. It’s not condoning; it’s reality.

Rather than preaching the often-ignored social construct of right and wrong, this complex, divisive and sometimes tragic subject demands open discussion.

To positively influence choice, education-based solutions will prove far more sustainable and effective in the long run for our precious sons and daughters.

COUNTDOWN to the grand final . . .

1990: The Raiders make it two in a row, beating an emerging Penrith team 18-14. The Phil Gould-coached Panthers had been building for six years with a crop of youngsters from the local district (Alexander, Geyer, Cartwright, Izzard, Van der Voort and Fittler).

1991: Great though they were, the Raiders are later found to have breached the salary cap of $1.5million by $600,000 in 1990. At year’s end they would lose many stars and a grand final but keep their 1990 title, unlike Melbourne in 2007. In their first premiership since formation in ’67, youth combines with experience (Chris Mortimer, Peter Kelly, Paul Clarke and stalwart Royce Simmons) and the Panthers finally walk the district with their heads held high after beating Canberra 19-12.

1992: After only four years in the premiership race, Brisbane’s corporate-backed approach, ably supported by coach Wayne Bennett, a host of rep players and a whole state, crack it for their first premiership. Their opponents, the Dragons, reach the GF after playing two semi-finals in which no tries are scored (Newcastle 3-2, Illawarra 4-0). GF score: 28-8.

1993: The Broncos make it two in a row, again against the Brian Smith-coached St George, 14-6.

1994: Retiring captain of three premierships Mal Meninga goes out in a blaze of glory by flogging the Bulldogs 36-12. One of the modern game’s all-star line-ups includes Daley, Stuart, Clyde, Kevin Walters, Brett Mullins and Dave Furner – to name but a few.

1995: The 1994 runners-up would not be denied in ’95, beating Manly 17-4. With the drama of the Super League war heavy in the air, retiring legend Terry Lamb is determined to go out on a high note after 328 first-grade games. 1996: Manly coach Bob Fulton is determined to return a premiership after his central role in the Super League fiasco. Taking on St George, the Geoff Toovey-captained Sea Eagles make up for the disappointment of last year by winning 20-8 against a desperate St George team.

1997: The competition is split and it’s argued the stronger of the two leagues is the ARL. Regardless, players are tasked with playing whoever is in front of them. Ten years after their second coming to the NRL, Newcastle win in the dying seconds against arch enemies Manly 22-16. Along with ’75, my personal favourite!

1998: Despite finishing equal minor premiers with Brisbane, the Knights can’t progress beyond a preliminary final against the Bulldogs that ran 20 minutes of extra time. The leg-weary Bulldogs are no match for the mighty Broncos, losing 38-12 in a 20-team competition.

1999: It took the News Ltd-backed Melbourne Storm an astonishing three years to win their first premiership. In front of 108,000 fans at the new Olympic stadium, the Storm trail St George for most of the match before controversy strikes St George centre Jamie Ainscough after he takes out opposite Tony Martin. A penalty try and an extra kick in front win it 20-18.