Bill Arthur profiles two men with vital roles to play in the Grand Final, who have been there, seen it, done it.
Last Updated: 09/10/09 11:50am
Who'll be the key performer at Old Trafford on Saturday?
Will it be Super League's top try-scorer Ryan Hall, hoping to add to the 33 tries he's already scored this season?
Or will it be the dreadlocked Sean Long (assuming he hasn't gone for a special Grand Final farewell hairstyle and there's every possibility of that)?
M'learned colleagues Messrs Stephenson and Clarke have been putting the case for the LTBTMIP (likely to be the most important player) on these pages but I'm going to stick my neck out and go for the veteran in the Leeds camp who already has a Grand Final winner's ring and is in his sixth Super League decider.
He's seen it all, Championships, Challenge Cups, World Club Challenges and Grand Finals. The glory days and the hard times.
He's Billy Watts, now 83 years of age, and still an important part of the Leeds Rhinos back-room team. As kick-off time approaches on Saturday Billy will be neatly filling out the paperwork for Brian McClennan so that the Rhinos team sheet is ready to hand to the RFL officials.
Then Billy will take his place in the stand at Old Trafford and fulfil his role as Leeds timekeeper, a job he has held for 34 years. He'll be making sure that the clock stops and starts when it should, an important consideration in the land of 'Fergie time', where the clock has been known to behave very strangely!
Billy's first game as a Leeds fans was at Christmas in 1938 when, aged 12, he watched the team beat Salford 5-0 on the Headingley cricket pitch as the rugby ground was frozen solid. He eventually became part of the back-room team at the club and even now, when he's in his 80s, he's still involved.
He's at the training ground bright and early to help set up for the days work with the players, he's in the tunnel at Headingley on matchdays making sure the team sheet tallies and he's in the stand, home and away, making sure that the everything's running on time.
Such is his importance to the Rhinos that, in 2004, after the victory over Bradford Bulls in the Old Trafford decider, the club decided to present Billy Watts with a Grand Final winner's ring, a testimony to the contribution he's made to the Leeds operation over the years. He's also been their Clubman of the Year and has been presented with an Outstanding Service Award.
And, while others in that long and daunting Old Trafford tunnel will be getting fretful and anxious on Saturday, Billy, with all his years in the game, will be calm and composed, with a smile and a handshake for everyone.
So Leeds have the back-room experience. But Saints have gone for a youth policy for the big one. Their off-field team includes a man who has been as busy as Billy Watts in the service of his club.
He used to be the kit man, he ran on with the kicking tee and he'll be there behind the scenes helping out at Old Trafford. But Stan Wall is a mere stripling compared to the Rhinos' octogenarian. Stan's only 73!
They say that come the big occasion there's no substitute for experience and both Grand Final teams certainly have that, with Billy and Stan leading the way. They might not be LTBTMIP on the pitch but off it the two veterans will still have an important part to play.