Let us take a journey back in time. It was 2001 and the rugby league world was preparing for an epic showdown – the grand final between the Newcastle Knights and the Parramatta Eels. Little did we know it would be one of the last times we could enjoy a grand final that wasn’t ruined by the simple fact of having the Melbourne Storm in it. This all-NSW affair was the talk of the town. Neutral fans chose their side by figuring out whether they had more yellow or red in their wardrobe to pair with the blue of their bootcut hipster jeans.
It was the NRL’s first night time grand final and the stars were out to play that night. The Eels had Nathan Hindmarsh and his less-remembered brother Ian, as well as Jamie Lyon before he decided he never wanted to play with the Eels again. Jason Taylor was their halfback and Brett Hodgson their fullback.
Meanwhile, the Knights were basically fielding the NSW State of Origin team – they had Matt “the original” Gidley in the centres, Timana Tahu on the wing, Danny Buderus in hooker and of course Andrew “Joey / the good one” Johns in halfback. As was customary at the time, Bill Harrigan was refereeing but inexplicably there were no major controversies in this game.
For a while it looked like the Knights were going to walk it in. My sister, who had chosen to support the Eels that day before converting to become a full-time Knights fan the next season, started covertly removing the yellow ribbons from her hair at half-time with Newcastle up 24-0 in what remains the biggest ever half-time lead in a grand final. The Eels closed the gap in the second half to give the game a respectable 30-24 scoreline, but it was the Knights who took home the honours that day, though they’ve never done so again. The Eels played in another grand final in 2009, which they also lost.
So here we are, 20 years on, with these teams set to play each other in a finals match again. It’s not a grand final – frankly with the form of these two teams over the past 20 years, it would be bordering on miraculous if it was – but it’s a finals game nonetheless, so a walk down memory lane is just what we all need.
The winner of this game will face the Penrith Panthers next weekend, after the Panthers suffered a shock loss to the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday. Throw in a couple more upsets and could we see one of these teams make it to another grand final? Probably not, but we can dream.