NRL Grand Final: Why Canterbury will win
Bulldogs NRL coach Des Hasler. AAP Image/Dean Lewins
As we eagerly prepare for Sunday’s NRL grand final, there is a mountain of statistics available for fans to devour and any single factoid, or group of them, that could easily sway a punter’s prediction.
The one that nudges me towards Canterbury as the 2012 champions is about the history of their forward packs in title deciders – and we have all heard that forwards win big games, the games that matter most.
One of rugby league’s most coveted awards is the Clive Churchill Medal, handed out to the best player on the field in the rugby league grand final.
Canterbury forwards have won three Churchills, with big men Paul Dunn (1988), Jim Dymock (1995) and Willie Mason (2004) the proud recipients.
Most judges feel if the Bulldogs have an edge over Melbourne Storm it is with their huge and mobile forward pack, which has overpowered and overrun all comers in the club’s impressive charge to the minor premiership. Speedy giants, all with footwork and deft ball skills.
That’s the Bulldogs’ stock in trade and we saw them use it to great advantage with last week’s second half blitzing of Souths in the GF qualifier.
Greg Eastwood collected the Man of the Match award in the game but the accolade could easily have gone to Sam Kasiano, Aiden Tolman or Frank Pritchard.
There are other forwards who have made enormous contributions to Canterbury’s exciting surge back to prominence this year.
Under coach Des Hasler, skipper Mick Ennis has left most of his niggling ploys in the locker room, Englishman James Graham has been a rock up front while young back-rower Josh Jackson has been one of the finds of the season.
Toss in the likes of workaholic David Stagg and the promising Dale Finucane and it’s easy to see why the Dogs are barking at the pointy end of the season. They’ve got wall-to-wall big men and Hasler has somehow instilled in them a discipline that is impossible to ignore.
In a game that will feature a physical, take-no-prisoners battle up front, I believe Canterbury has monsters that will seize the upper hand and ultimately create enough chances for their try-hungry backs.
A glance at the season’s stats shows that the Bulldogs forward pack ranked second (behind Cronulla) in the NRL for metres gained, with 12,559 metres eaten up at an average of 523 per game. In the offload department, the Bulldogs were ranked on top with 305.
I predict much will depend on the performance handed in by Ennis, the Dogs’ captain and hooker. His opposite, Cameron Smith, is one of the best big match players I have ever seen and Ennis should take it upon himself – legally, of course – to ensure Smith not allowed to run, pass or kick at will.
Melbourne’s kicking game will be designed to repeatedly turn Canterbury’s big men around but the tactic looks to be highly dangerous.
No team has been more lethal returning the ball than the Bulldogs this season. They have made 11 line breaks from kick returns and scored an incredible 17 tries from their own half.
Ben Barba has been the standout in this area with nine clean breaks from kicks.
Significantly, the statistics show, like neon lights, the Storm have made the most number of poor kick-chases this year (58).
I appreciate that you can read almost anything into statistics but in a game as close as this one is likely to be, trends or bad habits can prove to be the differential.
There are plenty of times when we predict big games such as Origins and grand finals to explode into something very special, so memorable that they enter the annals as classics. And often they are fizzers.
Having said that, with the Bulldogs versus Storm 2012 decider, they may as well etch it into history right now.
I feel it is going to be a match of great moments, player heroics and indelible memories.
I am tipping a Bulldogs win by seven with Dogzilla, Sam Kasiano, winner of the Churchill Medal.
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