Whatever happens tonight in the National Rugby League Grand Final between North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos, Queensland footy fans will be faced with incredibly powerful mixed emotions.
More so than any final in recent memory, tonight’s game has become so much about one individual player from both sides that the build-up feels more akin to heavyweight title fight than a game of footy.
In the north corner footy lovers are presented with Johnathan Thurston, a man widely regarded as the best player in the game and a future rugby league immortal.
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He may have won a record four Dally M Medals but the only premiership he has ever been a part of winning was way back in 2004 off the bench for the Bulldogs.
That he has reached ‘Hindmarsh’ status in the game without having claimed a legitimate premiership title is testament to his legend, but Thurston knows as well as any that at the end of one’s career greatness is measured in premierships before all else.
After all, if you were the best, why didn’t your team win the comp?
In the proportionately south corner we have arguably the greatest centre to have played the game Justin Hodges.
Already a winner of two premierships (Roosters 2002, Broncos 2006), a third title would elevate him into legend status and be the ultimate fairy-tale finish to a truly great career.
Such is the stature of these two men that the rest of the players – all stars in their own right – and the actual game itself have taken a back seat to pre-grand final questions like ‘who deserves it more’ and ‘who would you rather see win it’.
Undoubtedly the popular answer outside of Brisbane is Thurston, and in some bizarre twist of footy fandom tonight we will see the Queensland halfback heroically cheered onto ANZ Stadium by some 60,000+ New South Wales supporters who will have left their cockroach-infused hatred at the front gate.
But whoever you want to win tonight there is no escaping the fact that at the end of the 80 minutes fans – Queensland fans in particular – jubilation will be tempered considerably by thoughts of the other guy lying on the grass with tears in his eyes.
And that is why this game is so very special.