NRL Grand Final: Why the Storm will win
Nathan Brown says the high-flying storm will win the NRL premiership (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)
On Sunday, the two most dominant teams in the competition will face off in an enthralling contest. The Melbourne Storm will beat Canterbury in one of the great grand finals.
It won’t just be that Melbourne have nearly four hundred more games in experience or that their three stars in Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk have played in four of the past six grand finals.
Nor will it be because they have gained more metres than the Bulldogs, produced a slightly greater number of linebreaks, and created more dummy half runs.
No, those advantages alone won’t win it for them. This Canterbury outfit is the competition leader in offloads, usually dished out by young five-eighth Josh Reynolds but also by their huge barnstorming forwards Sam Kasiano and Frank Pritchard.
They are also superior to the Storm in tackle busts with leading tryscorers Ben Barba and Josh Morris posing a constant threat.
Barba is second only to the great Greg Inglis in this area, nearly doubling the busts performed by fellow superstar fullback Slater.
And it definitely will not be through the forwards that Melbourne asserts its dominance.
The price for keeping the ‘big three’ is a weakened pack formed mainly from other clubs’ cast-offs. Jason Ryles, their biggest and best performed prop, is out with a hamstring tear.
Apart from Barba, of course, Canterbury’s strength lies in their massive yet mobile forward pack. Former Storm player Aiden Tolman and the Englishman James Graham leave their counterparts for dead in the number of hitups and metres gained.
The Melbourne forwards will do their part though, getting as close to the opposition tryline as possible, allowing the sleight of hand set plays of Smith, Cronk, Slater and Widdop to have a devastating impact.
Storm’s back row is strong with the menacing Sika Manu, the difficult-to-tackle Kevin Proctor, and the dangerous runner and try scorer Ryan Hoffman.
Melbourne will also be keen to farewell the retiring Jaiman Lowe, and the departing Todd Lowrie, Dane Nielsen and Manu, with a premiership.
The Storm faded badly midseason as a result of the brutal State of Origin series. Being a team on the rise, the Bulldogs largely avoided the attention of the Origin selectors and claimed the Minor Premiership as a result.
The jury is still out on whether it’s a good thing for a team’s premiership prospects to have its stars get beaten up in Origin. If they can recover from the physical and mental toll of an Origin series – in which the games are arguably tougher than grand finals – they are better off for the big game experience.
Smith and Cronk are certainly back to their best. Slater has been superb despite his chronically injured knee, and Nielsen has found his way back into the team after being dropped post Origin.
But ultimately, the Storm will win because it means more to them.
And the reason a team who has played in four of the past six grand finals would want it more is best illustrated by an article from a Walkley Award winning journalist published last Sunday. The vitriolic piece described the Storm as a mere marketing exercise; a team to which the rest of the rugby league community feels indifference towards.
The author claimed its players were psychopathic deniers of the clubs’ dark past and that Billy Slater was a ‘star import’ (rather than the promising refugee who embarked on the long journey to the Victorian border in an unroadworthy wreck of a car in order to escape a life of mucking out Gai Waterhouse’s stables, that he actually was).
While the piece raised some valid points it was essentially a hate inspired rant with the subsequent factual errors and contradictions that I will not go into here except to ask: how on earth can a side who inspires such contempt, reverence and mimicry be a source of indifference?
Whether it was simply a counter piece to the feel-good stories about the Storm’s rise from the ashes, or a true reflection of the writer’s attitudes, I’m not certain, but the players are sure to take it as further confirmation of the hatred that has been prevalent since the club’s inception, and engorged by the salary cap scandal.
Unfortunately for Canterbury, the Storm won’t be their only opponent on Sunday: there will also be the core of festering contempt for Craig Bellamy’s team that will inspire the Melbourne outfit to finally win a premiership after five attempts.