NRL great PAUL GALLEN appears on Nine’s 100% FOOTY every Monday night of the NRL season, debating rugby league’s hottest topics alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Tune in tonight at 9.45pm (AEST) as the build up to Sunday’s grand final gets underway!
When people talk about grand final week being a completely different beast it sometimes sounds like a cliché, but trust me when I tell you there’s plenty going on that can derail your preparation.
It is a beast. There’s so much expectation and so much media hype and that brings with it extra pressure but you’ve just got to accept it, it is what it is, and just get on with it.
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A lot of those distractions are external but probably the biggest thing that you don’t expect is some of the extra pressures that come from the people closest to you. They’re not trying to make life hard, but sometimes they get caught up in the excitement and can create extra stress that you don’t need.
There’s so much excitement around the Eels because of their history. It’s a long time since they won a premiership, so everyone associated with the players and the club will want to be part of it.
I think the biggest problem for them, and I’m sure the club will be on top of this, but you don’t understand how many people pop out of the woodwork wanting tickets. Every family member and friend and their dog wants a ticket to the game and players get hassled. You haven’t heard from some of these relatives for three or four years and suddenly they’re ringing you for tickets. That can be a pain in the arse.
You want to help everyone out. You want everyone to be there. You don’t want to be letting anyone down, so you’ve got to have a good support system around you, that’s really important for the players.
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Whether it’s your wife or your partner or a best friend, or someone really close to you that can just take that burden off you. I was lucky, I had my wife Anne, and she did it for me.
But it can be hard because let me tell you, there are people, when it comes to family, they come out of the woodwork and you don’t want to let anyone down.
I was pretty lucky personally in the 2016 grand final. The Sharks were in a similar boat to the Eels, our club had been starved of success for a long time, but because I’d been around for so long and played Origins and Test matches, my family and friends weren’t too full on with the ticket requests.
As I said, I was really lucky to have my wife looking after that side of things and at the back end of my Origin career she was just saying no to a lot of the people asking for tickets. I just had six of my immediate family and my mum and dad there in 2016.
But I do know that with some players we’re talking 20-plus requests and that can really take over your week if you don’t manage it properly. That sort of stuff can become an issue.
They need to be on top of that but even if they are there are other things that can make the week hard if you don’t have the right attitude.
There’ll be a lot of talk all week about Parra last winning a premiership in 1986 but the players can’t buy into that too much.
That noise has been there since I’ve been around footy, and it probably got louder when they lost that 2001 grand final when they were the hot favourites against Newcastle.
It wasn’t quite the same in 2009, they were the outsiders in that one, but it’s still a grand final with nothing to show for it, so that weight of pressure is going to be there.
They can’t focus on that and they don’t focus on it. I’m sure they might have addressed it at the start of the season, but within the four walls of the team and the inner sanctum they wouldn’t even talk about it.
All they can do is worry about their job and what they can do to prepare as best they can, but it is true that grand final week is a completely different week.
You’ve just got to enjoy it. If you start getting bogged down and start worrying about it too much, ‘Oh shit, I’ve gotta do this, I’ve gotta do that’, it can get to you.
And then at times you get on the training paddock and all you want to worry about is footy and you almost play your game before you get out there. It is a juggling act without a doubt, but you’ve just got to enjoy it and take it as it comes. Just take it one day at a time and just whatever you do, do it with a smile on your face. That’s the best way to approach it.
The Eels are going through all that for the first time, but to be honest I don’t think that gives the Panthers much of an advantage because this is the first grand final back in Sydney for a while and it’ll be completely different to the grand finals played in the COVID years.
The Panthers have been to the last two grand finals, but they’ve been played in front of a reduced crowd and there wasn’t anywhere near as much fanfare and hype during the week.
I think it’s going to be pretty even and fair for both teams, obviously the weight of expectation and the amount of media pressure will be bigger for the Eels because of their history but the players and the club won’t worry about that too much. The inner sanctum inside Parramatta’s four walls, they’ll just worry about what they can do.
Some of the high profile players will be very busy. Everyone from the media wants a bit of them. Everyone wants to have a chat, wants a story, so you’ve got to deal with all that too.
Then you’ve got the fan days. Back in 2016 they still had the grand final Footy Show so we had to do a night at The Footy Show and the entire day in town. So you’ve just got to put a smile on your face and accept it. There’s another 14 teams that want to be where you are; you’ve just got to enjoy it all and take it all in and not let it stress you, because if you let it turn into pressure you can start to overthink things.
When you get to training you just want to worry about the footy and then all of a sudden you’re concentrating too much on your game and you play your game before you get out there.
It’s a balancing act and sometimes I think the team that best handles the week will win the game.
I remember back to 2016 and we just had a smile on our face. We spoke about it and we wanted to make sure we enjoyed it. We were just happy to be there, so happy to be there. We didn’t see the week as a burden and we got to game day fit and fresh and calm. We had fun all week and that’s what helped us.
If the Eels can get through all that and get to grand final day in good shape, what I think gives them a chance is they’ve got heart.
I watched them play against the Cowboys and I didn’t think they played all that well. The Cowboys dominated the majority of the game.
Parra was really courageous and determined to hang in there defensively and that’s something we probably don’t normally associate with the Parramatta side.
More often than not you think of them as a flamboyant side, but they had no right to win that game. The Cowboys looked fitter and faster and more powerful. They were just running through the Parramatta side making metre after metre. They were making 50 or 60 metres a set at some stages of the game and the Eels were struggling to get down the other end.
All the statistics showed that the Cowboys were dominant but the stats don’t measure heart or determination and how much you want to win. And Parramatta had that and they had more than the Cowboys in that department.
If they can bring that same heart and determination into the contest against Penrith, and just hang in there for the full 80 minutes, they’ll give themselves a chance of a big upset.
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