Melbourne Storm Vs Parramatta Eels
The Storm, in reaching their fourth straight fourth final, may be looking for redemption, while the late charging Eels are looking at recording their first premiership in 23 years.
Melbourne will look to cement their claim as one of the great Australian rugby league sides of all time, attempting to win their second premiership in four consecutive attempts.
They may also be thinking of some form of emancipation after being thumped 0-40 by Manly in last year’s championship decider.
The Storm have slipped somewhat under the radar this season, not winning the minor premiership (the J.J. Giltinana Shield) for the first time in four years, and missing eight players from the Grand Final last year.
But in many respects, this makes the 1999 and 2007 premiers far more dangerous.
Parramatta’s season has the makings of a fairytale. Midway through the season Parramatta were sitting third last and were offering $151 odds to win the premiership. A remarkable late season stampede, largely due to Dally M winner Jarryd Hayne and Daniel Mortimer, has seen them make history as the first eighth placed finals qualifier to make the Grand Final.
For faithful Eels supporters, this year will be the chance to right what have been rollercoaster rides for them this millennium. The team that was all but untouchable in the early eighties (four NSWRL titles in 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1986) has reached no less than nine finals series since the NRL was implemented in 1998, but have not tasted success on the highest stage.
In what Melbourne fans will hope is a good omen, the last two times the Eels have made the finals (in 2006 and 2007) they were eliminated by the Storm.
But with Hayne the current darling of the NRL (who makes 170 metres a match – second in the NRL), and people talking up the Eels magical attack, who offload a remarkable 17.5 times a game, far and away the most in the competition, the Parramatta faithful have right to believe in a fabulous end to 2009.
Their success has prompted the Storm to move away from the Parramatta Crown Plaza hotel – to Homebush Bay – where they have spent their last three build-ups to the Grand Final, but even the Storm’s superior experience in season deciders may be overrated.
We cannot forget Eel’s Coach Daniel Anderson, who has a record as impressive as his Storm opposite Craig Bellamy. Lest we forget, Anderson took the NZ Warriors to the Grand Final in only his second year. He also took England’s St Helens to three consecutive Challenge Cup triumphs (2006-2008) and three Super League Grand Finals on the same years – winning the title in 2006.
While many of his Eels may be Grand Final virgins, the 2002 Dally M Coach of the year is not.
And Anderson’s team is red hot, having changed their season around with wins against the table topping Storm and Bulldogs to start a seven match winning streak which earned them a final’s berth. Enroute to the Grand Final, they have beaten the three best teams of the year, beating minor premiers St George 25-12, destroying third placed qualifiers the Gold Coast 27-2, and downing second placed Canterbury 22-12 in front of a record 74,549 fans.
On this, what hope does Melbourne have to stop the “freight train” that is the blue and gold express?
The well oiled machine that is the Storm are appreciating this build up to the last match of the NRL season, with the glare away from the form team of the last four years for all the right reasons.
Last year, the Storm was in crisis leading into the last Sunday of the season.
Coach Bellamy had launched an extraordinary attack on the judiciary, and Captain Cameron Smith had been suspended. Key forward Ryan Hoffman had been injured and Manly – all but as good a team as Melbourne in 2007 and 2008 – were irrepressible in their quest to win their seventh premiership.
Smith this year has remarked that the build up to the Grand Final has been the best he has experienced, largely due to the fact that there hasn’t been so much focus on winning the minor premiership.
As the Australian test captain remarked, there was almost an unhealthy obsession to peak for the minor premiership, and then hold out for the finals.
While the Storm lost nine matches this season (compared with seven in 2008, three in 2007 and four in 2006) and were beaten in five of eight matches from Round 16, they have been in even hotter form than their opponents of late.
In Round 25, the beat the Roosters 38-4 and in Round 26 downed the Warriors 30-0. In the first week of the finals, the knocked out reigning premiers Manly 40-12, and then smashed Brisbane (who contained eight former or current test players) 40-10.
As for their squad, while Hayne remains all the rage, the Storms key weapons in Smith, Greg Inglis and Billy Slater have been by and large forgotten men.
This will be an outstanding match, but while the Eels have won their last two matches against the Storm, one feels that their more rounded game and superior experience might just be too much for the Eels to etch 2009 into their annals of history.
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