2017 NRL Grand Final Preview

Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys
7:15pm AEDT Sunday 1 October 2017
ANZ Stadium, Homebush

Well here it is! It’s Grand Final time, the Storm and the Cowboys, an unthinkable match up just over a month ago. Here are the reasons each team could win, and the reasons they won’t.

Why the Storm will win

Well, they’re the Melbourne Storm aren’t they? The most dominant regular season in recent memory has positioned this Storm team in the box seat for Sunday’s Grand Final. With a full strength team, they have been almost unbeatable this year, and have barely skipped a beat through the finals. After losing last year’s decider after the siren to a team that had 40 years of hurt and momentum behind them, this Storm team is clearly better than it was 12 months ago. For one, the great Billy Slater is back at fullback. Slater’s comeback from injuries that many thought would end his career has been remarkable. He will slot back into the Kangaroo’s number 1 jumper that had been kept warm by Darius Boyd, and his threat on the weekend goes without saying. Slater’s return has had another benefit, though, allowing Cameron Munster to grow into the five-eighth role like he was born to play there. Earlier in the year, Munster produced arguably the greatest State of Origin debut of all time, and he has kicked on since then. At $10, he looks good value for the Clive Churchill Medal.

It is difficult to imagine Cooper Cronk wearing anything other than the Storm purple next year, so for all we know this is the last time we will see the great halfback running around in the NRL. What an extraordinary career he has carved out for himself, transforming himself from a versatile backrow option to one of the most accomplished number sevens we have ever seen. The man deserves to go out a winner, simple as that. Of course, we haven’t even mentioned the real reason the Storm will win on Sunday. Cameron Smith stands alone as the most influential player, week to week, that we have seen in our lifetime. His ability to control the way a game is played is without peer, and not to be derided as it is by some. In fact, it was interesting to hear referee Gerard Sutton reveal this week that he actually hears a lot less from Smith than he does from other captains, particularly those from NSW. Regardless of whether you consider him sinner or saint, you can be in no doubt that if he has his way on Sunday afternoon, the Storm win comfortably.

Why the Cowboys will win

What a run it has been. Only a month ago, you could have named your price for the Cowboys to make it through to the first Sunday in October, yet here they are. With Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott in the stands, the Cowboys stumbled through the final rounds of the competition like an aging heavyweight on tired legs. With hindsight, though, you could see the quality of opponents they succumbed to in that time. It was the cream of the crop. Once they hit the finals, Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo transformed into the two most dominant players in the competition, and the rest of the Cowboys followed. Jake Granville, Lachlan Coote, Scott Bolton, Te Maire Martin, Gavin Cooper, Ethan Lowe… there have been heroes all over the park. The North Queenslanders arrive on Sunday with a mountain of momentum behind them, and a bucket load of self-belief. They have a team full of more recent premiership winners than the Storm, and won’t be overawed by the occasion. If Morgan and Taumalolo produce another couple of perfect ten games, the Storm will have a fight on their hands.

Why the Storm will lose

Let’s be honest, all the pressure is on the Melbourne Storm. We know that Smith, Cronk and Slater might be unaffected by that, but what about the rest of the team? What about young Curtis Scott? What about Tim Glasby? What about those two wingers, Vunivalu and Addo-Carr? If they can’t put the Cowboys away early, and the game goes down the stretch, there are errors in all of them if they let the pressure get to them. We saw a very uncharacteristic Storm effort in the first half against the Broncos. What if they see Billy Slater, their safe as houses custodian at the back, drop another sitter like he did that night? Will they drop their heads? These are questions we definitely don’t know the answers to. What we do know is that Michael Morgan will be applying the blowtorch, and pressure can do strange things to good players. We’ve written the Cowboys off each week for the last month, and they’ve proved us wrong on each occasion. Who’s to say they can’t do it one more time?

Why the Cowboys will lose

Well, all logic says they can’t beat this Melbourne team, but why? We’ve seen teams come into Grand Finals on the back of these hot streaks before, and ultimately, most of them fall short at the final hurdle. You can only survive on guts and enthusiasm for so long, and when it does eventually wear off, you can come crashing back to Earth with a thud. If the wheels fall off the Cowboys this weekend, it could get ugly, and after what they’ve been through, who could blame them? The Cowboys could very well end up on the end of a thumping, particularly if they allow the Storm to settle into a rhythm or sneak an early try or two. The wind will come out of their sails, the Storm will have their tails up, and you can shut the gate. Let’s hope it’s not a blowout.

So what will happen?

This Grand Final is the Storm’s to lose. If they play to their potential, no one can get near them, let alone a team missing their two co-captains. The Cowboys will try all day, but trying won’t be enough to stop what feels like an inevitable Melbourne premiership. Smith and Cronk, in particular, will dictate terms all day. If Melbourne fall behind, they will know how to crawl back, but if they get ahead, no one runs them down. The Storm will win by 13+, and we’ll stick with Munster as a dark horse Churchill Medalist.

Enjoy your Grand Final day!

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Words: Cameron Stakes