On-field entertainment can make or break how a grand final is remembered for years to come.
And despite border closures, travel restrictions, a last-minute move to Queensland and the threat of a total cancellation for the better part of the last week, the NRL came up with a way to show it knows its audience.
The unlikely matching of Stafford Brothers, Timmy Trumpet, William Barton, Kate Miller-Heidke and Ian Moss made for a strong start to the biggest night of the NRL season and, even at 75 per cent capacity, Lang Park’s reaction was just what the league would have been hoping for.
It started with an attempt to connect to the younger fans
The show opened with a brief pump-up appearance from the Stafford Brothers and Timmy Trumpet — both of whom featured heavily in sweaty Schoolies tents of the late 2000s to early 2010s.
Acknowledging that border closures and travel restrictions limit the options the NRL had, organisers’ attempt to launch the entertainment with an energetic act wasn’t a deal-breaker — but from the crowds in the stadium to the punters watching from home, there was a bit of hesitancy.
In the words of a well-known Queenslander though, we “ain’t spending any more time on it” with the Timmy Trumpet/Stafford Brothers segment remaining quite short and sweet.
It only got better from there
Once fans were all trumpeted out (which took just a few short minutes), the Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal Dance Company took the field along with a shift in the sense of excitement for what was to come.
The traditional music and dance led to featured performer William Barton taking to the stage with a didgeridoo performance, and he was then joined by Kate Miller-Heidke and Ian Moss for a rendition of Flame Trees.
It was certainly a change of pace from the nightclub-esque introduction, but the crowd quickly warmed up to the classic accompanied by an on-field orchestra.
Moss launched into a rousing performance of Tucker’s Daughter — both the track and the entertainer a clear nod to the older NRL die-hards.
It was everything everyone’s dad/uncle/next-door neighbour at a Sunday arvo BBQ could ever ask for, but it hit the nail on the head.
The 75-per-cent-full stadium erupted in cheers when the entertainment portion of the night ended — a good sign the performances went down pretty well.
The NRL didn’t follow the AFL’s virtual-appearances lead
Just last week, we saw Mike Brady beaming into Optus Stadium in Perth from an empty MCG with a pre-recorded, virtual rendition of grand final essential Up There Cazaly.
Men At Work’s Colin Hay also performed all the way from a beach in California, connecting with the crowd through the venue’s big screens.
The NRL decided not to do the same, with Cold Chisel represented by Ian Moss alone instead of any digital attempts to bring the band together minus the hotel quarantine bill.
Cold Chisel appeared at the 2015 NRL grand final — Moss said it was “one of those career moments that we all look to play”, and that it was “an honour” to be asked back again.
There was a bit of a whoops moment
Was it a pre-programmed timing issue? Did someone lean on the wrong button? Was it just a really bad call?
Whatever it was, Jonathan Thurston’s Acknowledgement of Country was cut off mid-sentence by the introduction of the Australian national anthem, which began while he was still speaking.
The timing issue has not been officially acknowledged as a mistake, and it’s unknown if Thurston had more to say.
Multiple NRL players have previously spoken publicly about their decision not to sing the national anthem ahead of matches, saying it doesn’t represent them or their families.