It has been a long and arduous season; after starting with 16 teams, we are left with just two, who have earned the right to fight for the 2017 NRL Premiership. It is ironic that the two teams featuring entered into the Finals at opposite ends of the Top 8; regardless, they have fought their way into this position, albeit under very different circumstance. The Storm took care of business as expected in their match against the Broncos, they lead from start to finish and displayed greater patience and determination than their opponents to stay within the contest. It was a dominating display from the Minor Premiers that saw a 30-nil victory in favour of the home team. After a tense first half, the Storm transferred the pressure they had built into points with a long-range try to Ado-Carr. That try was significant as it came 2 minutes prior to HT and provided return for the way the Storm had executed in the first half. It meant that the Storm returned in the second half with heightened confidence and they never looked back. In reality, the Broncos looked like a second rate team; while they were playing with injuries and below full-strength, it was surprising considering they were the 3rd ranked team in the competition. Completing at 82% with just 48% possession demonstrated just how good they were and the minimal opportunities that were given to their opponents. The Cowboys had a far more difficult time getting to this point; after only scraping into the Finals, they have continued to prove their doubters wrong and caused upsets to teams that a ranked higher than them on the competition ladder. A host of injuries has made the concluding stages of the season difficult, yet the Finals have been a different story altogether. They are playing with a renewed level of confidence and are being directed strongly by their leading players, minus Thurston and Scott. The growth in other players, Morgan in particular, is another story altogether and it crucial to the Cowboys success. Last week they gave the Roosters a lesson in patience and execution, leading them to featuring this week. Over the 80 minutes of last weeks match, they completed at 90% with 58% possession, made just 5 errors and missed 24 tackles. The fightback from the Roosters prior to and after HT provided some hope for their fans but at the end of the day, the Cowboys class was too much for their opponents. The story of their continued success, fight and determination is great and they will ride the wave of emotion for as long as they can; the intensity of a Grand Final will change things to some degree and the Storm will provide another challenge altogether.
Storm = Unchanged.
Cowboys = Unchanged.
Overall = Storm 25 Cowboys 10
Last 5 Matches = Storm 5 Cowboys 0
At ANZ Stadium = Storm 67% Cowboys 43%
Form = Storm 9 wins – Cowboys 2 wins
First and/or Last Try Scoring Options
Note – that in 3 out of the past 6 Grand Finals, a winger has scored first, with the other three coming from a fullback and second rower. Of those 6 tries, 3 have been scored before 10 minutes of the match (2 in the 7th and the other in the 9th minute), with the other two coming in the 15th, 20th and 30th minutes of play.
Best Bet = Suliasi Vunivalu @ $6 – This man is the leading try scorer in the NRL for a reason and is an attacking threat anywhere on the field. Expect the Storm to move to their major attacking threat at every opportunity and make up for his lack of tries in the past 2 Finals matches.
Value = Felise Kaufusi @ $21 – He has been terrorizing opponents on the right edge, even more so in the Finals. It appears that defenders are charging quickly to shut down the outside threats, but overlooking the man himself as a front option for ball players.
Best Bet = Kyle Fedlt @ $15 – Fedlt has scored once in each of the Cowboys Finals matches; while they haven’t been first/last in the match, they have been either first for the Cowboys or at a crucial time in the match. He is also proven on this stage, scoring the try to send the match into Golden Point in 2015.
Value = Michael Morgan @ $21 – Morgan has done just about everything possible to get his team to this point. He is a dangerous threat due to his attacking options and is never afraid to take the ball to defenders to play to a ball runner of take the line on himself.
Clive Churchill Medal
Note – in the past 6 Grand Finals, a halfback has won the CCM 3 times, with a back rower winning in the other three.
Best Bet = Cameron Smith @ $2.70 – Smith has won just about everything this season and the trend appears set to continue. He is the core of the Storm and will is crucial to their success; if the Storm are to win, they need Smith at his best. If this is the case, then there is no reason why Smith should not feature in this conversation.
Value = Cooper Cronk @ $5 – Value? At this price? Of course! Cronk is a crucial member of this team and the fairytale is there for everyone to witness. He took a battering last week at the hands of a few questionable shots from the Broncos, yet he kept getting up and driving towards success. There is a sense that Cronk is set to go out on a high for his club…
Best Bet = Jason Taumalolo @ $8 – Not for some time has a forward dominated the middle like Taumalolo has; he is the leading metre maker in the NRL for the past two seasons, breaking the NRL records he set previously. When issued the challenge last week, Taumalolo lifted to another level and will be out to again inspire his team to victory.
Value = Michael Morgan @ $9 – As good as Taumalolo has been, Morgan has been the brains behind the operation. Since the Finals began, Morgan has been integral in build pressure upon his opponents and closing out matches when in a winning position. He has come into his own since the loss of Thurston and will be out to make his own mark on one of the competitions biggest stages.
The Storm hold a strong record over the Cowboys and the last time they were beaten was in 2015 in the Preliminary Final, a win that sent the Cowboys to the Grand Final and their first Premiership. Furthermore, the Cowboys have won just 3 out of the past 10 meetings between the two teams. The way in which the Storm are performing suggests that this game is theirs to lose; they are the leading team in the competition and have only lost 4 games so far this season. Despite their performances throughout the season and their head-to-head record, the Cowboys will hold little regard for their opponent’s achievements and will believe they are capable of winning this contest. Patience is major part of their game and their wins in the Finals have come when they have grinded their opponents into the great and capitalised on their mistakes. They will find it difficult to do the same against the Storm, a team who takes pride in a high completion rate and no nonsense play. Opportunities for the Cowboys will be limited and if they are in positive attacking position, they will have to produce something special to crack the Storms defensive line. The Storm are the best defensive team in the competition, allowing their opponents to average just 14 points per game. Keeping the Broncos scoreless last week was a major achievement and highlighted the attitude within the team. Limiting points is one thing, scoring them is another and the Storm have managed 26.4 points per game, the highest in the league. Facing the leading attacking and defensive team will be a struggle for the Cowboys, especially as they allow 18.5 points per game. Nevertheless, the Cowboys have built something special since the beginning of the Finals and will want to make the most of this opportunity. In reality, it would be a major upset if the Storm were to lose this match; the class within their team is spread across the park and their potential is endless. The Cowboys are capable to combat this for a period of time, although it will be a stretch to do it for 80 minutes. They were outplayed in Round 22 by their opponents 26-8 and this match looks set to head down a similar path. As for the margin, these two teams generally have close matches, with an average winning margin to the winner sitting at 10.7 points in their past 10 meetings; if the Storm gather enough momentum in this game and nullify the Cowboys attacking threats, than they should win comfortably.
Storm 13+ @ $2.75