On Saturday evening at 6pm, Old Trafford will be rocking which means two things – firstly that Manchester United aren’t playing in it and secondly, that it must be the Super League Grand Final of 2019.
This year’s battle for the ultimate prize in Rugby League sees rank outsiders Salford Red Devils take on the mighty St Helens in the ultimate “David v Goliath” contest. Sky television will, of course, have all angles covered on the day, so here’s Paddy’s guide to five alternative things to look/listen out for as the curtain comes down on another domestic season.
1. TERRY & BARRIE’S PRE-MATCH WALKABOUT:
Sky’s excellent coverage of Super League is enhanced by working with pundits who know what they’re on about. The network chose wisely in former internationals Terry O’Connor and Barrie McDermott, who will mark your card pre-match as to where the game will be won and lost.
This scenario will involve both men initially standing on the try line in either half then walking and talking through tactics as they analyse each side’s strengths and weaknesses. Ten minutes in, however, the Old Trafford hospitality is sure to catch up with both, as they end the segment wheezing into the microphone begging the director to go to an ad break so they can have a breather. The sight and sound of two former prop forwards being reduced to rubble is a great way to kick-off proceedings.
2. THE NATIONAL ANTHEM:
As is the tradition in all major sporting finals in the UK, “God Save the Queen” will be sung before battle commences which leaves us asking the question; “Who will try their best to f**k it up this year?”
Usually, it’s some poor Soprano that will have to stand scantily clad and freeze to death in the middle of Old Trafford in front of around 70 thousand pissed-up fans, and try to do her best singing A cappella. What usually happens is that the crowd go off on their own tangent getting about five quavers in front of the vocalist, whose brave efforts are effectively drowned out.
Still, she gets a free ticket to watch the game and the opportunity to consume as much prosecco as is possible to fit into her system.
3. KENDALL CALLING:
Saturday will be a memorable one for Chris Kendall who at 27 becomes the 11th different man to referee the Grand Final. The official has probably been gargling Listerine all week to ensure that his voice stands up to the rigours of 80 minutes in domestic Rugby League’s biggest showdown.
Mic’d up as ever for the benefit of TV, listen out around the hour mark as Kendall’s voice starts to deteriorate having constantly bellowed “Hooooold!” and “Go!” at play the ball situations amongst others. By the end of the game Kendall will probably have no larynx left to thank the Guest of Honour as he picks up his medal, but he’ll have a long way to go to equal legendary match official Phil Bentham whose voice was reportedly so wrecked after one Grand Final, he spent the entire winter break under a vow of silence.
4. DYE ANOTHER DAY:
What is noticeable to all seasoned Rugby League watchers is the amount of dye that ends up on the player’s shirts and bodies after 80 gruelling minutes. This is thanks to the sponsor’s logo being slapped across the middle of the pitch of course, but it still brings a chuckle when you see the likes of Saints skipper James Roby or 2019’s Man of Steel and Salford star Jackson Hastings ploughing around the field looking like the Creature from the Blue Lagoon.
This, together with the lime that comes off of the whitewash has been known to add at least half a stone to a players weight during a match which, when you consider the average Rugby League player already weighs in at around 17 stone, can be rather debilitating – Over to you Terry and Barrie.
5. HERE’S JOHNNY:
Rugby League has its fair share of celebrity fans too so it will be the job of Sky’s roving reporter to flush them out before, during and after the game. On Saturday, expect to see some of the class of 92 roll up to their old stomping ground to support their city neighbours and of course, no Grand Final would be complete without St Helens’ number one fan, comedian and actor Johnny Vegas.
The local boy loves his Rugby League and is sure to be at the Theatre of Dreams for the weekend’s big game. Just like referee Kendall, Vegas will have been saving his voice (if that’s possible) ready to cheer the boys home on Saturday and what will be interesting to see is if after the match, the (now not so) big man’s voice is as f***ed as the man in charge of the contest.