Very little separates the Newtown Jets and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs so it’s only fitting that two of the most consistent sides of 2018 do battle in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Grand Final.
Both sides fell short in Week One of the Finals series with tough losses to the Panthers and Dragons respectively, but avenged their poor starts with thrilling Preliminary Final victories that now have them just 80 minutes away from premiership glory.
The Bulldogs had made a habit of letting rather unassailable leads slip through their fingertips at stages this season, but showed an abundance of character in the dying stages of their 28-26 victory over the Dragons last week.
A win seemed all but certain when they raced out to a 14-point lead with under 10 minutes remaining, but two tries in quick succession from the Dragons ensured an enthralling finish.
It was arguably the addition of NRL stars Rhyse Martin, Ofahiki Ogden and Greg Eastwood that helped them in the latter stages, with their committed defensive efforts proving the difference and will again be crucial against a lethal Jets outfit.
They suffered a crucial blow early in the contest with a foot injury to Matt Frawley that ruled him out for the entire match and this weekend’s decider. His absence will see Fa’amanu Brown shift to the halves with Zac Woolford starting at hooker.
For the Jets, their nail-biting 28-24 victory over the Panthers will have them brimming with confidence heading into the decider after they fought back from three Panthers’ leads early in the second-half.
There’s no doubt they have the attacking flair to cause havoc for the Bulldogs defence having scored five tries in each of their finals appearances, but they also have shown glimpses of strong goal-line defence despite conceding four tries on Saturday.
They hold a slight mental edge over their counterparts with wins in each of their head-to-head clashes this year – a two-point victory in Round 7 and 20-6 win in Round 20.
This match has all the making of a Rugby League classic with both sides boasting the talent to score points and the resilience to defend their line – with Newtown searching for their first premiership since 2012 and the Bulldogs hoping for their first since their 2010/11 triumphs.