Today’s match-up has turned in to one of the fiercest rivalries in the Hyundai A-League in only its second season.
The Hyundai A-League is a competition designed to enhance competitiveness, not to cap excellence.
Tonight-s combatants, NRMA Insurance Western Sydney Wanderers and Brisbane Roar, are decisively proving that sustained success is achievable. Dynasties will be decided by them, not by rules and regulations.
While together they are performing a service to the standards of the league, it is apart, as opponents, that we best get to celebrate their qualities. The two teams have consistently conjured tight, tough, yet intensely watchable contests in their six fixtures to date. There are many more to come, undoubtedly including tonight-s pre-finals teaser, but first let-s reflect.
This particular rivalry is one forged on the field, built from landmark beginnings.
After three matches of an historic 2012/13 season, debutants Western Sydney sat winless and bottom. A trip north to Suncorp Stadium seemed certain to only exacerbate the rough initiation. Instead it sparked a twin reversal of fortunes.
Knocking off the two-time reigning Champion – courtesy of Mark Bridge-s 19th minute goal and the dogged determination of the collective – on the ground where miracles had happened for the hosts, made a certain kind of statement.
Tony Popovic-s team never looked back; scripting a key theme to emerge from the two clubs- clashes.
Their next look at Roar was a repeat dose six rounds later. And while the score line remained 1-0 the gravity was perhaps even greater; Shinji Ono-s 87th minute penalty truly turned the tables by converting what seemed destined to be a draw into a late three points. It had been Brisbane-s speciality. Roar coach Rado Vidosic lasted just one further week.
Brisbane remained unable to break the hold in January even armed with a 1-0 home advantage and with Mike Mulvey at the helm.
By Semi-Final time the then-Premiers had claimed indisputable authority over the fixture. The zenith of the series was reached by two in-form teams duelling by a backdrop of destiny and desperation, where Shinji Ono-s second-half special sealed a deserved victory. Wanderers, amidst a breathless atmosphere aligned splendidly to finals football, had brought an empire to an end.
It must be noted that in the post Postecoglou revolution era, even an annus horribilis for Brisbane Roar meant falling just one stage short of a Grand Final. It is why this piece can be written. It is why the salary cap is a challenge, not a shackle.
However, three pieces of silverware in as many seasons prior to the current campaign was still not enough for Brisbane to claim a legitimate, long-standing hierarchy had been established. It could still be done but only by rebounding immediately. They have triumphantly made it happen.
Of course the truest way for Roar to announce their return was to give up gazing and reclaim the spotlight. To do that it took cathartic treatment. Namely, bringing down their tormentors. Winning was a habit they still knew well but not against Wanderers.
Cue round seven of this season where it was finally performed in the method called for by the clubs- well-established yet developing match mode: an arm-wrestle, won by brilliance.
Special strikes from Besart Berisha and Ivan Franjic established the two-goal buffer Brisbane needed to hold off the fast-finishing visitors. Kwame Yeboah then sealed victory with a goal and backflip of equal talent, a headline moment which set him for stardom. The four-goal affair was more open than the matches which preceded it, perhaps influenced by the teams- early-season intent while the two-goal margin was a reverse of the previous encounter.
The win can be reflected upon as decisive in Roar-s returning of the Premiership to Brisbane.
New ground was still to be covered just eight match days ago when for the first time a draw was the result. Again the contest was high quality, high stakes. Roar remained first, Wanderers close behind.
But where to from here for this fixture?
Finals, most probably. It has been established, at least from an outside perspective, that the new Premiers first and foremost needed to conquer the holders to re-establish their place on the league-s perch. Yet, there is plenty to be done – for both.
Brisbane have now collected four Hyundai A-League trophies, a feat matched by Melbourne Victory but achieved arguably in a more competitive period. Empires aren-t built on an arguable premise, though. A third Grand Final win will confirm their excellence overcomes setbacks.
Western Sydney, meanwhile, have stormed to consecutively impressive seasons. Wanderers kingdom is one requiring more silverware to be rated as ruling but the club-s commanding qualities have been proven by becoming an immediate and now sustained force.
Both have proven it is certainly possible to achieve ongoing greatness.
In 2012/2013 Brisbane were beaten and Wanderers wonderful. This time, the two have been the best all season. Just as derbies demonstrate the league-s supporters at their finest, this rivalry does the same for its footballers.
Western Sydney Wanderers have the upper hand over Brisbane Roar in finals. The Queensland club will either need to overturn that edge to complete their revenge, or do so by lifting the Grand Final trophy. What happens beyond this match is still to be decided; tonight, however, we know to expect a fierce battle.
This may be their final meeting of the regular season, but it is no ending.