NRL 2017 Grand Final Preview
The most unlikely of NRL grand finals is here, with minor premiers Melbourne taking on the plucky Cowboys who fell over the line into the finals in eighth place.
We run the rules over both teams to determine who will be left hoisting the trophy when all the dust settles.
Here is our NRL Grand Final Preview for 2017.
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Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys
ANZ Stadium – Sunday 1st October 2017
The imposing twin towers of Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr will have the Cowboys flankers sweating. The duo has 44 tries between them and they are strong, tall and fast. Kyle Feldt is capable of some extreme acrobatics and Antonio Winterstein is reliable, although battling with hamstring and rib complaints.
Inside, the Storm have arguably the best centre in the game in Will Chambers, while the Cowboys have Justin O’Neill playing out of his skin after having his rep jerseys stripped of him earlier in the year. Curtis Scott (Storm) and honest toiler Kane Linnett round out the three-quarter lines.
There is plenty of talent in the North Queensland backline, but there is no doubt that the points go to the Storm here.
Will Matthew Scott play for the Cowboys? Paul Green has delivered a stern ‘no’, but the co-captain’s name remains on the reserves seven months after injuring his ACL. Stranger things have happened in rugby league, but it would be an unlucky Cowboy that would miss out to pave the way for his return (Corey Jensen has already volunteered to surrender his spot). Do the Cowboys need him? Jason Taumalolo is the premier forward in the game and only need 54 metres to clock up 5km for the season – a first for a forward. He should have that rattled up by the 10-minute mark. Ethan Lowe is slotting goals with one eye closed, Scott Bolton continues to fly under the radar and Coen Hess is damaging off the bench.
The Storm have no shortage of big boppers either, with Kiwi enforcers Jesse Bromwich and Tohu Harris joined by future representative star Jordan McClean, workhorse Tim Glasby and metre eater Dale Finucane. Nelson Asofa-Solomona is also capable of breaking a game wide open off the bench.
The honours are fairly even here, but I will tip this one slightly in the Cowboys favour partly because of Taumalolo, and partly because many quarters of the game don’t respect the volume of work that Bolton gets through.
No Johnathan Thurston – and it doesn’t matter. 2017 has been the making of Michael Morgan, the Dally M halfback of the year, who has stood up in his skipper’s absence. Stood up to the point where Cooper Cronk has conceded that Morgo is probably the best half in the world right now. But this is Cronk’s last game in Storm colours, and possibly in the NRL. The old dog has plenty of tricks up his sleeves and cannot be treated lightly.
On the other side of the ruck is Cameron Munster, who tore New South Wales to shreds this year on debut. The Cowboys were fortunate to pick up Te Maire Martin mid-season, but he doesn’t have the quality of Munster yet. Despite Morgan’s form, this has to be advantage Storm due to the threats on both sides of the ruck.
How the Storm can win
By being the Storm. All season this side has shown that it is the benchmark of the competition through relentless pressure, outright pace and superior vision. This finals campaign, the Storm has not produced its best football. But the guile of players like Cronk and Smith still guided them to a two-point win over Parramatta. Even against Brisbane, Melbourne had their backs to the wall for much of the first half. Not only did they find a way to win, they flogged their opposition 30-0. When you can ratchet up a score like that, only playing 40 minutes of quality football and in an elimination final, well that is downright scary. They say that only Melbourne can beat Melbourne, but they have shown that even when they produce errors and put themselves under pressure, they are still a cut above the rest of the pack. Deserve outright favouritism.
How the Cowboys can win
There is an intangible in rugby league – spirit. The Cowboys finished eighth by the skin of their teeth, limped into the finals with just one win from six starts and have their representative co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott riding the pine. Mission: Impossible, right?
The men have shown time and time again that while others refuse to believe, they never gave up. There have been parallels drawn between this side and the 2009 Parramatta side that surged to the decider from eighth as well. But that was a one-man show, with Jarryd Hayne piloting that unthinkable flight of fancy. The Cowboys are far from a one-man band. Michael Morgan is now the preeminent halfback in the NRL, Jason Taumalolo the best forward in the world. Ethan Lowe is in career best form and is booting banana kicks from the sideline with one eye shut. Kyle Feldt is finishing like an acrobat, Shaun Fensom is munching on concrete as he trucks up metres with a busted knee – the list goes on. Stats say the Cowboys can’t win this, just the fuel this side needs to prove everyone wrong.
Every NRL supporter who doesn’t actively follow the Storm has adopted the Cowboys as the feel-good story of the year. And why not? The emotion, the courage, the spirit is what this great game is built on.
But Melbourne are no ordinary NRL side. This is perhaps the greatest (legitimate) non-representative rugby league side to ever walk out onto a paddock. What the Cowboys efforts are likely to mean is that they won’t get flogged, but no matter how close they come, the Storm are likely to find a way to win.
Full applause to the Cowboys for their efforts this year, but it will be Cooper Cronk who enjoys the fairytale this year, not the men from North Queensland.
Storm by 8
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