Here we are, at the completion of 23 rounds of footy, three cracking weeks of finals, and days away from the 2019 Intrust Super Cup grand final featuring two great clubs - Wynnum Manly Seagulls and Burleigh Bears.
Both clubs are deserving of their place in Sunday’s grand final at Dolphin Stadium, after finishing the regular season in second and third place, respectively.
My firsthand experience with the Seagulls and Bears this year has been mixed.
The Seagulls were too strong for Norths Devils on both occasions, whereas the Bears and Devils split the points in 2019.
In what feels like an age ago, the Devils tackled the Bears in the opening match of the 2019 season and were 28-22 winners at Bishop Park that day. At the time, I remember thinking the Bears’ attack looked predictable and that they wouldn’t feature in the finals.
I was wrong. The Sunshine Coast Falcons aside, the Bears have the best attack and defensive records of all teams. They’re relentless with and without the footy. The Bears players know what their individual strengths are and play to them every week.
Luke Page leads from the front with his charges while halves pairing Dylan Phythian and Jamal Fogarty complement each other. Phythian is a bigger body who likes to run the ball and play through the line, while Fogarty is an organiser who possesses a quality short kicking game.
The Bears then have the privilege of injecting five-eighth Josh Rogers off the bench to add an extra dimension to their attack. The trio’s ability to mount pressure with repeat sets against Sunshine Coast was a huge contributor to their 24-6 upset win last weekend.
Like the Bears, the Seagulls have a blend of power, pace and poise. They have a physical forward pack led by Matt Groat and Aaron Rockley and strong, powerful outside backs.
Linking the two is arguably the best spine in the Intrust Super Cup. New recruit halfback Sam Scarlett has been enormous in 2019, earning a spot in the Queensland Residents side. He must be a contender for the Petero Civoniceva Medal for the Intrust Super Cup's best player.
Joining him in the halves is 2015 medallist Pat Templeman, whose left foot has terrorised fullbacks during the second half of the season. He must be in the mix to win the medal for a second time.
Add in prolific tryscorer Edene Gebbie, and captain and fellow Queensland Residents player Mitch Cronin and it’s easy to see why the Seagulls are featuring on grand final day.
More than the sum of the parts, they’re a team who work hard for each other. The Devils played them in the final round of the regular season and on a number of occasions created line breaks and found space on the Seagulls’ edges. However, they couldn’t get across the line.
For every opportunity presented, a swarm of Seagulls players turned up and bundled a Devils player into touch. On the ensuing plays, they then found a way to break the Devils’ line and turn their own defensive efforts into an attacking reward. They finished 30-6 winners.
The Bears and the Seagulls met in the first week of the finals and it was the Bears who won 34-32. Much like they did against the Falcons on the weekend, the Bears raced out to a 22-6 half-time lead on that occasion. On Sunday, expect the Bears to do just the same.
I’m predicting a narrow Bears victory.
And I'm predicting we see a lot of players who will be future NRL stars. We just have to look back at last year's Intrust Super Cup grand final team sheets to see quite a few recognisable names. It’s a credit to the players, but also to the Intrust Super Cup.
Match: Dolphins v Tigers
Grand Final -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
Brisbane Broncos duo Kotoni Staggs (Redcliffe Dolphins) and Jake Turpin (Dolphins), North Queensland Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater (Easts Tigers) and teammate Tom Opacic (Dolphins), Melbourne Storm centre Marion Seve (Tigers) and St George-Illawarra Dragons second rower Patrick Kaufusi (Tigers) all featured on the Intrust Super Cup's biggest stage last season.
Opponents on Intrust Super Cup grand final day 12 months ago, Opacic and Drinkwater finished the 2019 NRL season as teammates. Both players became regulars in the Cowboys side. This time last year, Drinkwater was preparing to break the Tigers’ 28-year premiership drought. However, it was Opacic, and Broncos pair Turpin and Staggs, who combined to lead the Dolphins to a 36-22 grand final win.
Twelve months on and Staggs finished the 2019 NRL season as one of the Broncos’ best while Turpin’s toughness and determination shone as the Broncos surged to a finals appearance. Both players will play big parts in the Broncos’ premiership race next season.
Tigers centre Seve debuted in the NRL for the Storm in Round 2 against the Raiders and featured on another 13 occasions. His Tigers teammate Patrick Kaufusi joined the Dragons mid season and finished the year playing seven NRL matches for his new club.
Which players from the 2019 Intrust Super Cup grand final will set the field alight in the NRL in 2020?