Belfast Telegraph

Blake's heaven is simply Super

By Billy Weir

It was fitting that, after nine months of worry, strain and pushing, the Super League Grand Final delivered a bouncing bundle of joy that deserved a small pat on the backside and a hearty well done to all concerned.

Rugby League's big night out at Old Trafford – not to be confused with its big day out at Wembley for the Challenge Cup Final – was a cracker and no southerners were welcome.

Well, that's not strictly true, there were quite a few on show, mainly a smattering of Aussies and Kiwis on the pitch and several on Sky Sports' never-ending line-up of pundits, and one man flying the flag for Cork – Brian Carney.

Carney is Sky's new darling of the sport, a ruggedly handsome beast with a twinkle in his eye and with a foot in both camps, having played for final protagonists Wigan and Warrington.

Of course, this is a new era. Teams can no longer just be from a dreary north-western outpost that peaked when children were being shoved up chimneys or down mines and the Spinning Jenny was going like the clappers churning out somewhat less figure-hugging rugby shirts.

Nowadays they are the Warriors and Wolves, large, sinewy men, spray-painted in cherry and white hoops or primrose and blue stripes and sent to knock the bejaesus out of each other, as the Cork Rebel might have said.

Eddie Hemmings was our guide, surely the hardest working sports presenter this side of Castleford. Not only does he do the meet and greets, he then hot-foots it to the commentary box for the game, and most probably puts the kettle on for the half-time Bovril and sticks the pies in the oven.

"So, Super League gets its dream Grand Final and with so many of the stars saying farewell we're in for an emotional ride," said the Swiss Army Knife of the hosting world. And it was too, with several players saying goodbye and Sky's resident Aussie bloke, Shaun McCabe, packing up his didgeridoo and heading back home down under.

But there were plenty of others to guide us, starting with Brian, joined by fellow former stars Phil Clarke and Jon Wells, under a massive screen brought to us courtesy of the Sky Spider Cam, although we never got close enough to see if all three were perched on the Sky Tuffet, eating curds, whey and mushy peas.

"Well, there might be a 30mph speed limit around this part of Manchester but I don't think that the players will stick to that at the beginning of this match," said Clarke, as Greater Manchester Traffic Police swooped into position. And then law-abiding Brian turned to a fellow Irishman to try and add a little more decorum to proceedings, imploring the players that it was time to turn dreams into reality.

"Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you then will what you imagine and at last you create what you will," he said, before adding that these were the words of the 'great Bernard Shaw' for an audience probably more used to Bernard Manning.

Shaun jumped on the Theatre of Dreams cliché-wagon too, with a trip around the Old Trafford trophy room and I'm sure there was a sign up in the background saying 'Under new management, closed until further notice'.

"When I look around this wonderful trophy room, I'm reminded of how many athletes have graced this hallowed turf," he said, but I was already shouting words like 'Ralph Milne', 'Graeme Hogg', 'Eric Djemba-Djemba' and 'Danny Welbeck' at him.

Back to the studio and Eddie, with a tear in his eye, or else he'd been away cutting onions for the burger stall, patted Shaun on the knee and said 'you'll be missed old boy', while Sky's resident cuddly curmudgeon, Mike Stephenson, who must be referred to as Stevo at all times, added 'I never sit on the fence, Eddie, I'm glad to see he's gone.'

So after a brief interview with Ryan Giggs, who seemed to want both teams to win, it was off to the match, and not just with a commentator and co-commentator, oh no. We had a summariser, a guest summariser, a touchline reporter and someone making 'special comments'. Surely Eddie could have a bit of time off?

And then we were off and then Ben Westwood should have been for a sneaky punch in the bake for Wigan's Blake Green, who was more Black Blue at the end after what Brian, still in Shaw mode, accused the big bad Wolves man of being 'guilty of a grievous act'.

He was to have the last laugh, although I imagine it hurt, the Wolves romping into the lead and then imploding as the Warriors waged war in the second-half to win. And, to rub salt in their wounds, Aussie Green was named man of the match.

"I don't care what it looks like. I couldn't see for a while, it was a little bit blurry," as footballers across the land rubbed their bruised metatarsals in shame, and a similar cloudy end was in sight for Shaun, who, fittingly, had the departing words.

"I'm going to get ripped into this weekend," he said, as in the background an Irish laureate tutted and aptly pulled out an emergency copy of Man and Superman.

Belfast Telegraph

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