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In an eerily similar set-up to the AFL premiership decider, the 2016 NRL Grand Final features a competition powerhouse and a suburban battler. It’s the team that the Sydneysiders love to hate, the Melbourne Storm, taking on a club making just its third ever Grand Final appearance while chasing an inaugural premiership – the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks. This is the Storm’s sixth Grand Final in the past 17 years. They’ve won four including two victories that were stripped from the club over salary cap breaches. They last reached this stage of the season in 2012 where they defeated the Bulldogs 14-4.
NRL Grand Final betting preview: Melbourne Storm v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks; ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park, NSW; Sunday, October 24, 7.15pm – line: Storm -1.5; preview & selections by James Potter & Sean Callander
Just two years removed from an injury- and ASADA-ruined wooden spoon season, a near-unrecognisable Sharks outfit has scrapped and fought their way to just the third grand final in the club’s 49-year history. They lost a nail-biter 10-7 to Manly in 1973 and had to endure the agony of again losing to the Sea Eagles in 1978 in a replay after they’d finished locked at 11-11 in the initial Grand Final. Cronulla also featured in the 1997 Super League decider when the game was split into separate competitions but still couldn’t find victory, losing 26-8 to the Broncos.
Melbourne and Cronulla have met 31 times with the Storm winning 21. They’ve also won 11 of the past 13 matches including the minor-premiership playoff in round 26 by a score of 26-6. The teams have played off in just one final with the Storm winning 28-0 in 2008 to eliminate the Sharks. Melbourne have won eight of the 14 matches played in Sydney, the majority of which were at Shark Park. Their past three match-ups have failed to 32 points while 11 of the past 15 have failed to break 38 points. The teams have never met at ANZ Stadium.
Melbourne won the minor premiership and were the gold standard in 2016 with a 19-5 record and a +261 differential. The Storm again topped the defensive rankings conceding only 12.5ppg while they ranked sixth in attack with 22.8ppg. Since round 11, the Storm rank third in attack with 23.1ppg while they were the top defensive team conceding 12.5ppg. Melbourne dominated premiers North Queensland and then Canberra (both at home) in their two finals matches and have conceded an average of 9.3 points a match in their last three. The Storm are 6-2 against Top 5 teams this year.
Cronulla finished third in the regular season but won just one of their last six matches. Their +176 differential was good for fourth while they ranked second in attack (24.2ppg) and defence (16.8ppg). Since round 11, the Sharks ranked seventh in attack with 21.7ppg and fourth in defence conceding 17.5ppg. Cronulla turned their form around in the finals with a gritty 16-14 win in Canberra before winning 32-20 against the Cowboys. The Sharks have conceded 20-plus in four of their past seven. Cronulla are an impressive 5-4 when behind at half-time this year.
Melbourne are 15-11 ATS this season and are the leading under team with an 18-8 under number. Cronulla are also 15-11 ATS with a 14-12 under number. The Storm have played under the total in eight of their past 10. The Sharks have covered the line in just three of their past eight. Just one of the past five Grand Finals have topped 36 points while just two of the past 10 have topped 40. Favourites have won and covered in seven of the past eight Grand Finals, while the ‘over/under’ is also 1-7 in the past eight.
Expert’s view – by James Potter
It’s hard to begrudge the Storm or the Sharks their place in this year’s Grand Final. Both clubs have been consistently good through a long season. Now it all comes down to one game and all that hard work becomes irrelevant. Grand Finals are about seizing a moment in time and etching your name in the history books. Last year we witnessed arguably the greatest decider in the history of rugby league and it will be a tall order to expect that kind of excitement in 2016.
The Melbourne Storm are as reliable as a Swiss watch. Coach Craig Bellamy (pictured above) is a throwback to the great coaches of the 1980s like Jack Gibson who relied on a simple game plan of getting the basics right. Don’t turn the ball, get away a good kick on the fifth tackle and then tackle your heart out. It’s a pretty simple methodology but it is painfully effective. The pain comes from them playing fairly uninspiring football but Bellamy is in a success-based business and his numbers are staggering.
Between 2003 and 2015 he coached the Storm to 222 wins and only 112 losses at a staggering 66 per cent win/loss record. His sides have never finished worse than 50% including 2010 where his team played for no Premiership points. Outside of that year his side made it to the finals every year. On Wednesday night Cooper Cronk was awarded the Dally M medal. Cronk isn’t flashy; I wouldn’t even describe him as brilliant. But he is one hell of a footballer. This year he was ranked second only to Jonathan Thurston in try assists and third overall in kicks in general play.
If there was a statistic regarding general kicking effectiveness he would have finished first by the length of the straight. Australian, Queensland and Storm captain Cameron Smith is the greatest hooker the game has ever produced and is the other major pillar of strength for the Storm. Smith again made the top 5 list in total tackles for the year with 1041 which puts him miles in front of any other player who plays in his position. Add to this Suliasi Vunivalu’s chart topping 23 tries for the season out wide and you can start to see how well the Storm side is put together.
The Cronulla Sharks on the other hand have a totally different history. The Sutherland Shire is desperate for success and with only 80 minutes of football standing in their way of ultimate success the excitement is palpable. Coach Shane Flanagan (pictured above) is a no nonsense coach who is loved by his players. Many of his big signings over the years state Flanagan as their major reason for choosing to move to the Sharks. This year things have finally clicked and even though they stumbled late in the regular season, their two finals wins over the Raiders and North Queensland were ultra-impressive.
The Sharks have a plethora of emotional firebrands in their line up especially in their forwards. Paul Gallen is your quintessential rugby league leader. He is tough, unforgiving and epitomizes passion. Michael Ennis is the annoying grub that everyone loves to hate and his battle with Cameron Smith will be worth the price of admission alone. The tireless Luke Lewis is a far cry from the blonde headed winger that burst onto the scene over a decade ago but he has successfully morphed into a dangerous unyielding ball playing forward that can produce points.
Sharks half James Maloney might be the most important player on the ground. Maloney has had an up and down career and has been toweled up many times by the Queensland pair of Thurston and Cronk. Maloney got one back on Thurston last weekend and he will be looking for the ultimate redemption against Cronk this weekend. Maloney has to kick well and has to keep the Sharks structured in defence both inside close to the ruck and out wide. The Storm are always well organised and the Sharks have to be disciplined in defence and then rely on their brilliance in attack.
Confirmed betting for October 2
Melbourne Storm WIN v Cronulla Sharks (two units @ $1.86) – I would love the Sharks to win. It’s the Australian way to get behind the the fairytale story of the underdog. Betting, however, is about winning and looking for value. If you search around you can get around $1.85 the Storm and about $2.12 the Sharks. This just seems way too short for the Sydneysiders. I would want $2.40 about the Sharks at a minimum. So I will be betting with my head and snapping up the $1.85 about the Storm. The flat 34 total appears to be right on the mark. Melbourne/Under or the Sharks/Over might be the right way to go here. The Storm should score somewhere between 12-20 points regardless of the outcome. Just beware of Grand Final junk time. Two or three late tries are a distinct possibility if the game is already decided by the 65-minute mark.
Week 3 finals update: 2-0-0, +2.02 units; overall record: 52-4-37, +10.21 units
Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders +7.5 (one unit @ $2.00) WIN (14-12)
Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders -36.5 (one unit @ $2.02) WIN (14-12)
• Selections are listed in three categories – 1) Suggested (likely bet but yet to be finalised); 2) Confirmed (locked in at the price listed); and 3) Leans (tips, but not recommended bets); all times quoted are Australian Eastern Time (AET); prices with thanks to Bet365 (except where markets are not available), correct at time of publication. Results/comments on today’s games/races will follow in the next post.