Barassi Line disappears as footy borders merge for AFL, NRL finales

On Saturday, Sydney will hope to win the premiership in Melbourne; on Sunday, Melbourne will hope to win the premiership in Sydney. Confused? Neither am I.

If you’re an avid sports fan you will get it, if not, you soon will because our country’s once-fortified football ‘borders’ are now ‘porous’ with the result that we’re all a bit ‘bi-codal’ these days. That once-famous ‘Barassi Line’ – which angled from Darwin to the NSW Riverina, with footy on the left and league on the right – is no more.

In the years since our two main sports codes nationalised their respective games, Queensland have been AFL premiers three times, runners-up once; Melbourne is a six-time NRL grand finalist; Sydney is aiming for its third flag from five AFL Grand Finals; Melbourne the city is a State of Origin hot-spot for the NRL, and soon Perth will get in on the act.

If not for an inspired Western Bulldogs side, we would have had an all-Sydney AFL Grand Final in Melbourne; had Cronulla not outlasted a tired Cowboys side, we would have had a Queensland v Victoria NRL Grand Final in Sydney.

Thankfully for the diehard traditionalists, Melbourne and Sydney will be represented on Grand Final day in both codes when the Western Bulldogs play the Sydney Swans at the MCG on Saturday, and the Melbourne Storm play Cronulla at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday.

How the Bulldogs got there will go down in club folklore. They emerged six-point winners over a courageous GWS Giants side in an epic match that had all the highlights. The superlatives for the Doggies’ win keep coming from all quarters, so let’s talk about two young Indigenous lads who played the games of their lives – the Giants’ Zac Williams and Nathan Wilson, Wiradjuri and Noongar.

The pair are defenders for the Giants and they stood tall in the chaos around them on Saturday.

Wilson was all class. His level-head, sure-fire clearance work and strong overhead marking saved his side many a goal. He played smart, too, peeling off his man after reading the play and gathering crucial possession. The lithe key-position defender has re-committed to the club and the Giants will be happy to keep him.

Williams was spotted everywhere but settled in defence by the second half. He drew strong praise for his contested ball work. With minutes to go and the game in the balance, we got a good insight into what this kid is capable of in the AFL when he crashed a Bulldogs pack of three, resulting in the Giants gaining possession and leading to a goal.

History will record the Bulldogs winning this game by a straight kick, and it would be safe to say no-one would begrudge them that win…. except for hard-core Sydney Swans fans, that is. At this point we should note Lance Franklin. He will play in his fourth Grand Final on Saturday and it was he who set the tone for the Swans in their preliminary final match with Geelong, combining solid aggression with the finesse we all love him for in the first half of the match at the MCG.

The Swans won by a large margin and the game was all but over midway through the third quarter and it sets up an intriguing match-up on Saturday: the hardy perennials (Sydney) versus the battlers made good (Western Bulldogs).

SPARE a thought for Edrick Lee, for the next six months, please.

The Indigenous NRL All-Star and Canberra Raiders winger literally had the lead, and possible victory, within his grasp against Melbourne in Melbourne at the weekend, twice!

With his side making all the play early in the second half, trailing by two points, Lee made an intercept and was clear to go only to fumble the ball.

A chance for redemption came much later when the Raider was perfectly poised to cross the line after received the ball in space but again his grip on the dewy ball wasn’t secure enough.

So the Storm will attempt to add to its storied march toward premiership glory. The club is 18 years old and has played in more grand finals than their Sunday opponents, Cronulla.

The Sharks were formed in 1963 and have zero premierships to their name. There’s been grand finals, the latest of which was in 1997, but no cigar.

Everyone loves an underdog story, so perhaps the Sharks and the Bulldogs are the sentimental favourites. But both Sydney and Melbourne are seasoned and ruthless finalists. Follow your heart, but tip with your head.

Darren Moncrieff

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