In the end it’s the players on the field who make this the game that we love.

Dave Woods BBC Sport writes – At the culmination of a season when there have been all manner of distractions – Covid-19, the Toronto fiasco, a continued divergence between Super League and the Rugby Football League and the absence of fans – it will be the players on the field who will give us the final, reassuring reminder of why we cannot resist rugby league.

The 2020 Grand Final between Wigan and St Helens, in the sport’s 125th year, promises to be an intoxicating mix of brutality and brilliance. If defence is an attitude and attack is a skill, both sides have those qualities in abundance, together with the extra thread of a rivalry that is stitched into the fabric of the history of their sport.

It will be an occasion when we witness for one final time two of British rugby league’s greats, and surely future Hall of Fame inductees, in Wigan skipper Sean O’Loughlin and St Helens’ own warrior James Graham.

More than that, the final also gives us the chance to sit back and argue about which of the backs on show should be remembered as the most sparkling talent of the current moment.

And the young forwards from both teams will prove again that the age of the durable, tough, competitive English pack-man is a long, long way from being over.

To get to the Grand Final this year has taken a special effort from both sets of players.

O’Loughlin’s path was probably set from birth. Dad Keiron and his uncle Kevin were both top-class professionals. Brother-in-law Andy Farrell and nephew Owen also maintained a family tradition.

Graham’s climb to the highest branches of the game was successful without that kind of family tree. He’s a rare Scouser to enter the professional rugby league arena.

But both men have at one thing in common – they could both lay claim to being among the best players of their generation, or indeed, any generation.

Former England half-back Kevin Brown played with both at international level, and also at club level with O’Loughlin and amateur level with Graham.

“‘Lockers’ is just so naturally talented,” Brown told this week’s BBC Radio 5 Live Rugby League podcast.

“He’s got everything, but what he’s got along with that is that his work ethic is second to none.

“When I was coming through at Wigan he was pushing himself to be in the gym longer than the first-team players.

“He has worked so hard on living up to expectations of not only being in the first team, but being sat under Andy Farrell, his brother-in-law, and supersede him, and in his own right have the legacy that he has.

“What he can do in terms of toughness and then the class on the back of that, everyone who plays with him has full respect for him. When it needs it he can pull off something special, and when you need a carry off the line or a tough tackle, he can do that for many minutes.”

It is 18 years since O’Loughlin made his Wigan debut. And despite being top of the shopping list of other Super League and NRL clubs, he’s stayed loyal to his hometown club, racking up well over 450 appearances.

James Graham swapped the red vee of St George Illawarra Dragons to return to that worn by St Helens in June and the Maghull-born Graham started his professional career with St Helens, but has also been a star down under with Canterbury Bulldogs and St George Illawarra, before his return to Saints this year to bring the curtain down on his career.

Brown has known him since they were both teenagers, making their way in the game.

“I started being his team-mate at 13,” said Brown. “We came through together at Thatto Heath Crusaders and I just remember thinking he was a great player at that stage and I don’t think my opinion has changed.

“We played New Zealand at Carlaw Park in 1998, it was an under-16s tour. Sonny Bill [Williams] and Tommy Leuluai were playing and he went after them. And while they were doing the haka we had to hold him back.

“That’s what makes him the player he is. He’s super, super aggressive. I’ve never seen a more competitive person – he wants to win at everything.

“He leads from the front, he shows you the way to do it. When you sit down in a changing room and you’ve got players like Lockers and players like James Graham, you feel real comfortable.

“To a man every single player on both sides will look at them for inspiration.”