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The ultra definitive NRL grand final stats preview: Sydney Roosters vs Melbourne Storm

Boyd Cordner (R) of the Roosters celebrates with team mates during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium on September 22, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Expert
28th September, 2018
15
1329 Reads

So here we are at the final game of the season. I’m not feeling a lot of love for either of these sides out there. However, both are very deserving participants.

What is a bit sad is that, without Cooper Cronk, the Roosters may not be able to achieve their potential. The key attributes for both sides are not their attacking prowess, but their staunch defence.

More NRL Grand Final
» MITHEN: Roosters finally meet expectations
» Match report: Sydney smash Storm
» Seven talking points from the match
» WATCH: Video highlights from the match
» Sydney Roosters player ratings
» Melbourne Storm player ratings
» Best and funniest tweets

Defence wins premierships

The two sides that have made it are clearly the best two defensive sides of the year. The Roosters average 14.5 points conceded a game, the Storm 15.3. So the chances are very good that this will be a low-scoring affair.

The good news for the Roosters is that the stats are strong: the best defensive side for the year often wins the competition.

Year Winning team Season defensive ranking
2017 Storm First
2016 Sharks Third (beat best defence)
2015 Cowboys Fifth (beat third best)
2014 Rabbitohs First
2013 Roosters First
2012 Storm First
2011 Sea Eagles Second (beat fifth best)
2010 Dragons First
2009 Storm Second
2008 Sea Eagles Second (Beat best defence – C. Smith suspension)
2007 Storm First
2006 Broncos First
2005 Cowboys Seventh (beat sixth best)
2004 Bulldogs Third (beat best defence)
2003 Panthers Seventh (beat second best)
2002 Roosters First
2001 Knights Seventh (beat best defence)
2000 Broncos First
1999 Storm Fifth (beat sixth best)
1998 Broncos First

In 50 per cent of the NRL seasons so far the best defensive side for the year has won the decider. Three more times the higher ranked defensive side won. So two-thirds of the time, being the best defensive side brings home the bacon.

On three occasions (2015, 2005, 1999) the decider was fought out between two sides a bit down the defensive pecking order. However, on four occasions (2016, 2008, 2004, 2001) the best ranked defensive side was beaten in the decider. So there is hope for the Storm.

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Billy Slater

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Ladder finish and grand final chances

Year Table finish of contesting sides Winner
2017 First and eighth First (Storm winner)
2016 First and third Third (Storm loser)
2015 Second and third Third
2014 Third and seventh Third
2013 First and fourth First (Roosters winner)
2012 First and second Second (Storm winner)
2011 Second and sixth Second
2010 First and sixth First (Roosters loser)
2009 Fourth and eighth Fourth (Storm winner)
2008 First and second Second (Storm loser)
2007 First and second First (Storm winner)
2006 First and third Third (Storm loser)
2005 Fourth and fifth Fourth
2004 First and second Second (Roosters loser)
2003 First and second First (Roosters loser)
2002 First and fourth Fourth (Roosters winner)
2001 First and third Third
2000 First and second First (Roosters loser)
1999 Third and sixth Third (Storm winner)
1998 First and ninth First

In the 20 NRL seasons so far, the side that finished higher on the ladder has won nine times (45 per cent). The first-placed side has made the decider 14 times but have only won seven of them.

So taking top spot – as the Roosters have – is no guarantee of success at all.

The first and second placed sides have faced off in the grand final six times, with the second-placed side triumphing on three occasions – including the last two occurrences (2012, 2008) when the Storm lost despite having been minor premiers.

That won’t make great reading for the Roosters.

One stat that is certain is for the 16th time in the NRL era, the premier will have gone through the finals series undefeated.

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James Tedesco

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The sensational finals records of both teams

These two sides are – statistically speaking – the juggernauts of the NRL era.

This is the 21st season of the NRL and, including Sunday’s decider, these two sides have taken 16 of the 42 possible grand final spots available. That’s 38.1 per cent of them taken by just 12.5 per cent of the clubs (not including those that have ceased to exist during the era).

Amazingly, this is the first time that these two sides have met in a decider.

We already know the Storm’s amazing finals record. Including this game, the Storm have played in nine grand finals in 21 seasons.

This is their third straight grand final appearance. It is their eighth decider in 13 seasons. They’ve won four of those.

Only three times have the Storm not made the finals in 21 seasons. This will be their 46th finals match in that time.

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That equates to 2.2 finals played on average each year. They’ve only lost 16 of 45 (35.5 per cent). Of the 196 NRL finals games that have been played since 1998, the most the Storm could possibly have played in is 68 (allowing for 2010 where they were ineligible).

So, they have played in 67.6 per cent of every finals game they possibly could have.

This will be the Roosters’ 40th finals match in the NRL era. The maximum number they could have played in is 78. So they have played in 51.3 per cent of every possible finals game they could have.

They have won 23 of the 39 NRL finals they have played (59 per cent). This will be the Roosters’ seventh grand final appearance in 21 seasons. They’ve won two of six so far.

Defence

Team stats

Stat Storm Roosters Difference
Line breaks conceded 3.4 (#2 NRL) 3.1 (#1 NRL) +0.3 Storm
Missed tackles 22.6 (#2 NRL) 21.5 (#1 NRL) +1.1 Storm
Tries conceded 2.5 (#2 NRL) 2.2 (#1 NRL) +0.3 Storm
Errors 10.8 (#14th NRL) 10.8 (14th NRL) Equal
Meters conceded 1283.4 (#1 NRL) 1394.9 (10th NRL) +111.5 Roosters
Penalties conceded 7.7 8.1 +0.4 Roosters
Offloads conceded 9.9 11 (#16 NRL) +1.1 Roosters

The only real differences between the sides here are that the Storm do not like to give up metres at all, but the Roosters are a bit more relaxed.

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The Roosters are also very relaxed about conceding offloads. They concede the most in the NRL per game.

Neither side seems to put much store in low error rates either, both being relatively profligate throughout the season. Given their one-two finish, it doesn’t seem to have hurt too much at all.

The key stats for this match are that neither side will give up a missed tackle, line break or try without a huge fight.

Individual player stats

Stat Storm Roosters
Tackles made C. Smith – 34.8
F. Kaufusi – 31.8
D. Finucane – 27.2
J. Stimson – 23.3
J. Friend – 42.8 (#1 NRL)
R. Matterson – 29.9
B. Cordner – 26.4
I. Liu – 25.3
Missed tackles C. Munster – 2.8
W. Chambers – 2.7
B. Croft – 2.6
J. Friend – 2
L. Keary – 2
B. Cordner – 2
V. Radley – 1.9
Penalties conceded C. Munster – 19
C. Smith – 19
N. Asofa-Solomona – 15
D. Finucane – 11
L. Mitchell – 23
J. Friend – 22
D. Napa – 17
J. Waerea- Hargreaves – 16
Errors S. Vunivalu – 27
W. Chambers – 23
J. Addo-Carr – 23
B. Slater – 23
B. Ferguson – 33
J. Tedesco – 28
L. Keary – 27
D. Tupou – 20

Veteran hooker Jake friend is the number one tackler in the NRL in 2018, both in terms of average and total number. He’s a lucky boy that one of his tackles isn’t making him miss this game.

He is well supported by Ryan Matterson and Boyd Cordner. Cam Smith is similarly well supported by Felise Kaufusi and Dale Finucane in the tackling department.

Neither side have many weaknesses in defence. The five-eighths on both sides will surely have traffic aimed at them. Will Chambers will also get some attention from the ball runners.

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Attack
Team stats
As pointed out above, both sides commit a lot of errors. However, looking at their key culprits above, these are attacking errors. The crucial factor in this game is who can make the passes stick the best.

Stat Storm Roosters Difference
Line breaks 4.2 (#10 NRL) 4.5 (#6 NRL) +0.3 Roosters
Tackle breaks 27.2 (#7 NRL) 27.3 (#8 NRL) +0.1 Roosters
Tries scored 3.6 (#5 NRL) 3.7 (#3 NRL) +0.1 Roosters
Meters made 1349 (#13 NRL) 1436 (#2 NRL) +87 Roosters
Penalties received 9.1 (#1 NRL) 7.7 (#14 NRL) +1.4 Storm
Offloads 9.6 (#9 NRL) 6.8 (#14 NRL) +2.8 Storm

There are only two high-ranking stats for either team here. Melbourne have received more penalties than any other side this season. Sydney, meanwhile, have made the second most metres of any side in 2018.

The rest of their attacking team stats are mediocre or poor – apart from tries scored, which is quite acceptable from both sides.

Individual player stats

Stat Storm Roosters
Tackle breaks J. Addo-Carr – 92 (#7 NRL)
B. Slater – 73
N. Asofa-Solomona – 64
C. Munster – 65
S. Vunivalu – 45
J. Tedesco – 132 (#1 NRL)
L. Mitchell – 101 (#4 NRL)
B. Ferguson – 82
D. Tupou – 52
J. Manu – 62
B. Cordner – 31
Line breaks J. Addo-Carr – 19 (#6 NRL)
B. Slater – 13
S. Vunivalu – 11
C. Munster – 9
B. Ferguson – 24 (#2 NRL)
J. Tedesco – 19 (#6 NRL)
L. Mitchell – 18 (#10 NRL)
L. Keary – 10
J. Manu – 10
Metres gained J. Addo-Carr – 125 (#39 NRL)
J. Bromwich – 114 (#54 NRL)
B. Slater – 108
B. Ferguson – 189 (#1 NRL)
J. Tedesco – 179 (#2 NRL)
D. Tupou – 151 (#7 NRL)
S. Taukeiaho – 128
B. Cordner – 111
Tries scored J. Addo-Carr – 17 (#6 NRL)
S. Vunivalu – 15 (#8 NRL)
C. Scott – 9
B. Slater – 7
B. Ferguson – 18 (#4 NRL)
L. Mitchell – 16 (#7 NRL)
J. Tedesco – 9
J. Manu – 7
Try assists C. Munster – 18 (#7 NRL)
B. Slater – 15 (#14 NRL)
R. Jacks – 7
L. Keary – 20 (#3 NRL)
J. Tedesco – 19 (#4 NRL)
C. Cronk – 15
Line break assists C. Munster – 18 (#6 NRL)
B. Slater – 10 (#30 NRL)
C. Smith – 9
J. Tedesco – 18 (#6 NRL)
L. Keary – 17 (#12 NRL)
C. Cronk – 10
J. Manu – 8
Offloads S. Vunivalu – 23 (#35 NRL)
B. Slater – 22
C. Munster – 20
C. Smith – 20
N. Asofa-Solomona – 19
J. Tedesco – 25 (#30 NRL)
L. Mitchell – 20
J. Waerea-Hargreaves – 15
J. Manu – 15
R. Matterson – 13

While neither side excelled at tackle breaking this season, both had players who did. Josh Addo-Carr was always a handful for any defence and the retiring Billy Slater is not going to leave anything in reserve in this game.

Josh Addo-Carr Melbourne Storm NRL Rugby League 2017 Finals

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

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However, James Tedesco and Latrell have been tackle-breaking crazy in 2018, ranking first and fourth respectively. They also get more than token support from Blake Ferguson.

Ferguson, now at his third club, will be joining the Eels in 2019. His line breaking, metre gaining and try scoring this season make you wonder why they are letting him go.

For the Storm, Addo-Carr has been their most effective attacking weapon, with Cam Munster and Slater being their most influential playmakers.

The loss of Cooper Cronk shines the light squarely on the Roosters’ other playmakers. And there is good news there. Cronk was playing a distinct third fiddle to Luke Keary and James Tedesco at the Roosters this season. While Cronk’s calm, controlling hand – as well as his superb defence – is sure to be missed, all is not lost for Sydney here by any stretch.

The danger men

Cameron Smith
Playing in his seventh decider, Cam Smith knows how grand finals go. He has won four from six so far. His game management will be crucial.

Cameron Smith

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Billy Slater
Reprieved from an early retirement, you can bet that Billy the Kid will play this match as hard as he ever has. This bloke has been superb his whole career. Expect exactly that again one last time.

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Josh Addo-Carr
If the Storm are to win, ‘The Fox’ must get the better of Daniel Tupou. I reckon he can. Once he makes a break, he is very hard to stop.

James Tedesco
The only concern I have for Teddy is that the occasion may get to him. However, his 13 rep games should have prepared him well for this.

He is the number one tackle breaker and the number two line breaker in the NRL this year. In his last two games, he has averaged 200 metres a game. If he repeats that, the Storm will be in trouble.

Blake Ferguson
Latrell Mitchell’s return to the side makes Ferguson all the more dangerous. He knows how to turn a half chance into a try and Latrell makes lots of half-chances. So does Ferguson, for that matter.

Luke Keary
There is a lot of pressure on Keary in this game. However, don’t forget he won a premiership playing for the Rabbitohs with the number six on his back. He is not even close to a rookie.

Roosters player Luke Keary

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

The history

Head-to-head
This will be the 36th game between these two sides. The Roosters have won 14, the Storm 21.

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This is only the second finals match between the two sides. It has been split one apiece. The Roosters beat the Storm 26-12 at the old Olympic Park in Melbourne in the 1998 preliminary final. In 2015, the Storm beat the Roosters 20-18 at the SFS in the qualifying final.

They have never met in a grand final before.

At this venue
The sides have never met at ANZ Stadium before.

The Roosters have played 48 games at ANZ Stadium, winning 24 of them. However, they’ve won eight of the last ten they’ve played here.

The Chooks have played eight finals at this venue, winning just three – the last of which was their 2013 premiership victory.

Melbourne have played 20 games at this venue, winning 13. However, they’ve only won two of the last six – the last of which was last year’s premiership victory.

When it comes to finals at ANZ Stadium, the Storm have won six of the ten they’ve played.

The Storm’s overall record
This will be the Storm’s 558th game since they entered the competition in 1998. They have an amazing win rate of 64.8 per cent.

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The Roosters overall record
This will be the Roosters’ 2378th competition game. They’ve won 1255 of them (52.8 per cent)

Form

Craig Bellamy’s men have won eight out of their last 11 games. However, the three losses all came in the last seven rounds and all were to other finalists.

Sydney have won seven of the last 11. That includes three of the last five.

The Roosters only lost three of their remaining 13 games to storm home to the minor premiership. So their run has been timed well.

Against the other top four sides
The best indicator of form might be how the sides perform against the other contenders. This season, both sides have played six games against the other top-four clubs.

Storm For Against Roosters For Against
vs Sharks (a) 4 14 vs Sharks (a) 28 10
vs Roosters (a) 9 8 vs Rabbitohs (h) 14 26
vs Rabbitohs (a) 20 30 vs Storm (a) 8 9
vs Sharks (h) 14 17 vs Rabbitohs (a) 18 14
vs Rabbitohs (h) 29 28 vs Sharks (h) 21 12
vs Sharks (h) 22 6 vs Rabbitohs (h) 12 4
Total 98 103 Total 101 75
Average 16.3 17.1 Average 16.8 12.5

While the points scored by both sides is almost identical in these match-ups, the Roosters have a distinct advantage in points conceded. That gap has been widening. In the last two games, the Roosters have conceded only 16 points, whereas the Storm have conceded 34.

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Overall statistically predicted score: Roosters 18.85 – Storm 18.7.

However, when the above scores against other top four sides are considered that margin spreads: Roosters: 16.96 – Storm 14.4.

The Referees: Gerard Sutton, Ashley Klein

These two referees have never officiated a match between these sides together.

Gerard Sutton has done one Roosters-Storm game. In Round 23 of 2017, the Storm beat the Roosters 16-13.

Sutton has controlled 33 Roosters games and they have won 19 of them (57.6 per cent). Four of those games have been finals matches and Trent Robinson’s boys have lost the last three of them.

Melbourne have had 39 games with Gerard Sutton, only losing 13 of them for a 66.6 per cent win ratio. Only two of those have been finals games but the last was their 2017 premiership triumph.

Ashley Klein has done two matches between these sides, the last of which was in 2015. The Storm won both.

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Klein has reffed 35 Roosters games and the Tri-Colours have won 20 of them (57 per cent). However, they’ve won 13 of the last 18 he has controlled of theirs (72.2 per cent). Klein’s only Roosters finals match was their 2013 preliminary final win against the Knights.

The men in purple have had 38 games under Ashley Klein, winning 24 of them (68.6 per cent).

Klein has only controlled one Storm finals game. It was against the Knights in 2011 and they won 18-8

Ashley Klein awards a try in the NRL.

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The case of the disappearing penalties
So far this season there have been 3267 penalties awarded by the referees at an average of 16.33 a game.

In the finals, that average has fallen to 14.4.

Sydney have had an average of 15.8 penalties awarded in their games so far this season, losing the counts 7.7 to 8.1 on average. During the finals, the average per game has fallen to 14.5 but the Roosters have won the counts on average 6.5-8.

The Storm have an average of 16.8 penalties awarded in their games so far this season, with them winning the counts 9.1 to 7.7 on average.

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During the finals, that game average has fallen to 12.5 – 4.3 fewer penalties per game – with the Storm winning the count, receiving seven penalties and conceding 5.5 on average.

Either Ash Klein or Gerard Sutton have controlled all these sides’ finals matches so far.

Expect to see even fewer penalties in this one.

You can be sure that both teams will be very aware of this trend and the ten metres is likely to be skinny and the ruck very slow.

Grand final experience

Storm Roosters
Cameron Smith – 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2016, 2017 Mitchell Aubusson – 2010, 2013
Jesse Bromwich – 2012, 2016, 2017 Jared Waerea-Hargraves – 2010, 2013
Dale Finucane – 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017 Jake Friend – 2010, 2013
Billy Slater – 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2016, 2017 Boyd Cordner – 2013
Will Chambers – 2009, 2012, 2016, 2017 Daniel Tupou – 2013
Kenny Bromwich – 2016, 2017 Luke Keary – 2014
Tim Glasby – 2016, 2017 Cooper Cronk – 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2016, 2017
Josh Addo-Carr – 2017
Cameron Munster – 2016, 2017
Suliasi Vunivalu – 2016, 2017
Curtis Scott – 2017
Nelson Asofa-Solomona – 2017
Felise Kaufusi – 2017
36 games of grand final experience Nine games of grand final experience
22 games of winning grand final Experience Six games of winning grand final experience

The Storm are miles ahead of the Roosters in this regard, with 27 games’ more experience in premiership deciders.

Even if Cooper Cronk plays, the difference is 20 games.

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Thirteen of the Storm’s 17 have already played in a grand final and are backing up from last year’s win. Only six of the Sydney side have played in a decider, the most recent of which was Luke Keary in 2014.

Games played

Roosters No. of NRL games No. of rep games No. of finals games Storm No. of NRL games No. of rep games No. of finals games
Sio Siua Taukeiaho 88 5 7 Tim Glasby 109 3 11
Jake Friend 237 0 16 Cam Smith 383 98 35
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 198 23 14 Jesse Bromwich 201 24 18
Isaac Liu 133 8 11 Joe Stimson 38 0 2
Boyd Cordner 148 30 11 Felise Kaufusi 85 8 5
Victor Radley 27 0 2 Dale Finucane 159 0 18
Mitch Aubusson 262 0 18 Brodie Croft 16 0 2
Luke Keary 111 0 8 Cam Munster 88 6 10
Joseph Manu 44 0 2 Curtis Scott 38 0 5
Latrell Mitchell 70 3 3 Will Chambers 190 17 17
Blake Ferguson 191 14 9 Josh Addo-Carr 60 3 5
Daniel Tupou 133 15 13 Suliasi Vunivalu 69 7 8
James Tedesco 114 13 2 Billy Slater 318 61 31
Dylan Napa 120 8 8 Kenny Bromwich 122 3 12
Zane Tetevano 78 3 3 Christian Welch 60 0 4
Paul Momirovski 2 0 1 Brandon Smith 20 0 2
Ryan Matterson 59 0 4 Nelson Asofa-Solomona 76 5 7
Total 2015 122 132 Total 2032 235 192
Average 118.5 7.2 7.75 Average 119.5 13.8 11.3

Cam Smith’s massive experience skews these figures a fair bit. However, as they stand the two sides’ total games experience and average games are almost identical.

The Roosters only have three players who have fewer than 50 games under their belt. The Storm have four.

Imagine being Paul Momirovski playing in a grand final in just your third game.

As with the grand final experience, the real difference between the two sides is in their relative finals experience. The Storm have an average of an extra four games experience per player.

Cameron Smith NRL Rugby League Melbourne Storm Grand Final 2017

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

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Who is going to win and why

There really isn’t a struck match between these sides. Both are defensive machines that will not relent.

Both are very well drilled and led too. Both have some outstanding attacking weapons at their disposal.

However, the three key factors for me are that:

  1. Billy Slater is playing his last game and I bet it’ll be a ripper. When he plays at his best he is nigh on unstoppable.
  2. Cooper Cronk is out. While Keary and Tedesco are actually the Roosters’ leading playmakers, the calm, controlling hand Cronk provides is so important to Sydney’s success and they won’t have it.
  3. The Storm have so much more big-game and grand final experience. Twenty-seven more games of experience is massive. Thirteen players versus six who’ve been there and done that. It’s compelling.

While the Roosters have the skill to win this game – and I do not predict a blowout – I reckon the Melbourne Storm will be the first back-to-back premiers (in a united competition) since the Broncos in 1993.

Prediction: Storm 1-12