Becoming champions is about big-game mentality
After the undercard fights and the long muscle-flexing walk to the ring, it's time for the main event.
The 27-round jostle for positions has seen Wigan clinch the League Leaders' Shield, champions Leeds finish down in fifth again and Wakefield seal an impressive play-off spot. But now the action really starts.
Like it or loathe it, the play-off system culminating in the Grand Final has become the way our champions are crowned. You cannot dispute the drama and theatre that it produces. The Grand Final is one huge occasion, 80 minutes of sporting brutality through a wall of noise at a sell-out Old Trafford, to find the season's heavyweight champion.
It may or may not be fair but I love it. Every team knows the season finishes in October. No squad will be thinking during their wintery pre-season hills runs that if they can perform well through 27 rounds, then it is job done.
Leeds came from fifth place in the regular season to clinch the 2011 Grand Final. Photo: Getty
The higher you finish, the bigger your play-off advantage, but becoming champions is about momentum and big-game mentality. And there is rarely an undeserving name lifting the trophy on that Saturday October evening in Manchester.
That said, there do remain elements to the system that are in my opinion unnecessary. In a system unique to any sport, the top-ranked winning team from week one are allowed to choose who they want to play in their qualifying semi-final.
I am still to see the benefit of this for either side. The team with the dubious advantage of this clubcall seldom wants to make such a decision. The selected opponents are understandably fired up even more.
In terms of this year's rivals, the two Ws are the two overwhelming favourites. Wigan and Warrington have been the two outstanding teams over the course of the season and, if all goes to plan, they will contest the Grand Final.
I can only see five teams with a shot of going all the way. Hull FC, sliding Huddersfield and surprise package Wakefield have done nothing to convince me they can extend their seasons by anything further than a week. I would give the Wildcats a shout at Leeds, though, just because of the jitters that playing such a huge underdog can give a home side in a big west Yorkshire derby.
St Helens and Leeds are the two sides who have proved they know how to reach Old Trafford on a regular basis, regardless of regular-season form. For that reason I would not write either of them off.
And Catalan Dragons have picked up some big scalps this year in proving they are now close to the real deal. I see no reason at all why they cannot shake up these play-offs with their fierce up-front combat and effervescent Scott Dureau-inspired backs play.
Week one's two qualifying play-offs will tell us a lot about the strength of the top four clubs' title credentials (the top four sides are have an "extra life" in the play-offs and can still recover if they lose in week one).
The Dragons' trip to Wigan will be as tough as it gets. Trent Robinson's side have beaten St Helens, Warrington and Leeds this year but not the Warriors, who have come out on top in both meetings. Robinson is a popular coach and I know the team are keen to send him out on a high before he heads back to Australia.
Their performance in this fixture will be key to their play-off hopes, likewise those of Wigan whose own feelings of dominance will be strengthened by a home win. An upset would really shake up the Grand Final hierarchy.
Likewise Warrington, dominant last year but surprisingly undone by in-form Leeds in the play-offs, desperately need a commanding start against a Saints side still desperate to end their own run of Grand Final defeats. Saints have appeared in, and lost, the last five Grand Finals. Their week one clash with Warrington could be an absolute stunner.
In one of these teams will be a Grand Final-winning star waiting to shine. It could be Sam Tomkins, Brett Hodgson, Dureau, James Roby, or Ryan Hall. The beauty of this competition is that right now we have absolutely no idea.