Sat, Oct 01, 2011 - Page 19 News List

Australia gears up for finals action in Aussie rules, NRL


It’s the weekend when millions of Australians find any excuse to put off chores. When rugby league and Australian rules football fans decline invitations from not-in-the-know friends. It’s Grand Final weekend, when more than 180,000 spectators fill the country’s two biggest stadiums for championship matches in its two most high-profile sports.

First up today is the Australian Football League (AFL) final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground — seating for 95,000, standing room 5,000 — between Collingwood and Geelong, the two top teams in the regular season.

Tomorrow at Sydney’s Olympic stadium — capacity 83,500 — the New Zealand Warriors take on the Manly Sea Eagles for the National Rugby League (NRL) title.

Aussie rules and rugby league are two of four of the country’s football codes, with rugby union and soccer taking a back seat.

That’s the case in Australia, but not in New Zealand, where rugby union is king and the country’s revered All Blacks are taking part in the World Cup, which it is hosting. The Warriors, who upset the first-place Melbourne Storm last weekend to reach the final, are trying to make news back home as they attempt to win the NRL title for the first time.

So far, the Warriors’ run to the final has generated plenty of coverage in New Zealand, primarily because it’s a chance to get a win over the archrival Australians, but also because the knockout stage of the World Cup does not begin for another week and the All Blacks are comfortably through.

Collingwood and Geelong have won the past two AFL “flags” and had only five losses between them during the season — two for the defending champion Magpies and three for Geelong. However, Collingwood’s losses were to the Geelong Cats, who love nothing more than traveling to Melbourne to upset the city’s clubs.

The coaching situation could not be any more different. Collingwood’s Mick Malthouse will oversee his final game in charge after 28 seasons across three clubs, while Chris Scott will coach Geelong in a Grand Final in his debut season.

It is a similar situation in the NRL, where Des Hasler will take Manly into his third Grand Final, while Ivan Cleary, who has already signed to coach Penrith next season, will lead the Warriors in his first coaching trip to the championship. However, Cleary was in the lineup for the Warriors’ 30-8 Grand Final loss to the Sydney Roosters in 2002, Cleary’s last match as a player.

Being the underdogs and playing in parochial Sydney won’t bother the Warriors, who shocked first-place Melbourne 20-12 in Melbourne last weekend against a very vocal pro-Storm crowd.

Several thousand fans have made the trip from New Zealand across the Tasman Sea to Sydney, where they will be buoyed by comments from Peter Sterling, a star halfback who won four premierships with Parramatta in the 1980s and is now a television commentator.

“The win over the Storm was the best performance I have seen from the New Zealanders since entering the competition,” Sterling said.

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