Casuarina will be looking for a record equalling fifth consecutive Darwin Rugby Union Premiership when they take on University at Rugby Park tonight from 6.00pm.
The match will be the 38th Grand Final since the inception of Rugby Union in the Top End back in 1976.
These two powerhouse Clubs will have won twenty of those titles between them.
Such has been their impact on the game locally; there has only been twelve Grand Finals played that neither club has featured in.
The Pirates have won nine of their sixteen previous appearances whilst the Cougars have converted ten of their thirteen into titles.
Casuarina has gone through the season undefeated while most pundits didn’t expect University to progress beyond the Preliminary Final
The Pirates had lost all three minor round matches against both Casuarina and South Darwin.
Finals football can be a great leveller and this was never more evident than last Saturday’s upset victory by University over the Rabbitohs.
The Pirates played mistake free percentage football and defended with great commitment and enthusiasm.
If the Pirates can back up mentally after the euphoria demonstrated when full time was signalled last week they will be very hard to beat.
The level that University lifted to last week is the way Casuarina approach every match they play.
Both sides go into tonight’s match almost at full strength with Casuarina benefiting from a week off to assist a third of the team rest and treat niggling injuries.
The Cougars line-up boasts three players who have won the Willie Ellsion Medal for the Best on Ground in a Grand Final.
Joe Albert, Sam Batty and Zac Phillips have all demonstrated they can be big match players when required.
Both Casuarina’s and University’s strength is their overall balance.
For the Cougar’s their Captain Aaron Rudduck leads the side by example, fearlessly launching himself with ball in hand at the defence.
Prop Eric Ericson is as mobile as most loose forwards while Bobby Nurse has been the standout back rower for the last two seasons.
Nate Lamb’s arrival this year at fly half has been a huge bonus for the Cougars, forming a great partnership with Batty.
The mid field battle promises to be the most intriguing and the superiority gained likely to influence the result of the game.
Luke Cummins and Joe Tuisuva are creative in attack and rarely miss a tackle.
Likewise their opposing numbers Shaun Wauchope and Poasa Raqiyawa are uncompromising defenders and devastating ball carriers.
The impetus Wauchope and Raqiyawa have on the game hinges on the service Robert Butcher can provide them from fly half.
Butcher received the Eric Johnston Medal for the competitions Best and Fairest Player last Sunday Night.
Frank Jennings leads his Pirate pack in a similar manner to Rudduck and they have often been partners in the second row for the Mosquitoes.
Up front Kosta Elenis in just his second year in senior Rugby props the scrum with Michael Jennings and their dual with Ericson and Owen Griggs will be absorbing.
There is also genuine pace on each team’s wing with David Taylor and Simaika Sala’a two of the quickest in the competition.
University will have the benefit of a fresh reserve bench with players of the calibre of Liam Walker, Wayne Robinson and the seasons leading try scorer Isaac Taulelei on it.
Casuarina’s bench will be selected after the Reserve Grade Grand Final where the Cougars are taking on Palmerston at 4.15pm.
In three matches during the regular season Casuarina defeated the Pirates by just one point in their match first encounter in April and then registered eight and ten point victories in May and July.
The Cougars are entitled to be favourites to win tonight’s match.
They will need to ensure the Pirates do not get the significant early points advantage to then protect as they did against South Darwin.
During Casuarina’s reign as Premier Club they have shown an enormous capacity to withstand pressure from their opposition.
Their game has also become synonymous for composure and being able to come from behind and win matches which is a vital characteristic required to win a Grand Final.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of NT Rugby.