The Storm are Good Things: It is shocking that betting is as close as it is in the Grand Final because Melbourne are close to good things and won’t be getting beaten. Whatever way this game gets chopped up, the Storm come out on top, which makes it somewhat shocking that every man and his dog wants to tip up the Sharks. There is no shame in believing in fairytales but those believing in one this Sunday will be sorely disappointed.
There is no question the Sharks put in a better preliminary final performance. They had to. And that effort looked like it was their Grand Final. Melbourne did what needed to be done against Canberra, a team that stylistically worries them a lot more than the straight up-and-down Sharks. The Raiders play wide and without predictability. The Sharks play through the middle – and that plays right into Melbourne’s hands.
The Storm are more intelligently coached. They have a major edge in the playmakers. They have a bigger pack. They are more disciplined. They are more adept at controlling the tempo of a match. This will be a dour arm wrestle played through the middle and it will be another Melbourne premiership.
Dally M Forecast: Your predicted winners of all the awards first, followed by who should win if it is someone different:
Dally M Medal: Cooper Cronk
Coach of the Year: Ricky Stuart (Brad Arthur)
Captain of the Year: Cameron Smith
Rookie of the Year: Ash Taylor
Fullback: James Tedesco
Wing: Jordan Rapana
Centre: Jarrod Croker
Five-Eighth: James Maloney
Halfback: Cooper Cronk
Lock: Jason Taumalolo
Second-Row: Josh Papalii (Elliot Whitehead)
Prop: Jesse Bromwich
Hooker: Josh Hodgson
Post-Mortem for the Gone: Canberra and North Queensland are now gone.
CANBERRA RAIDERS: There is no question that 2017 shapes as a pivotal year in the history of the Canberra Raiders. This season was unquestionably their best and their most important since their last title in 1994. Ricky Stuart and his team have rejuvenated Rugby League in the capital by bringing success through the most entertaining brand of football in the premiership. Average footballers became stars. The depth of talent at the club has never been so deep. The fan base is well and truly on board. The club has the pieces in place to be a major player for the next three seasons. Their title window is open. Unlike more consistent teams around them though, they must prove they can sustain that success now they are being gunned for. They should again find it in 2017 but they won’t get the breaks they have this year.
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS: If the Cowboys are to rise again, 2017 will be their last shot as the salary cap begins to take hold. They were strong again this year but just seemed to lack that will. It happens after a title. The loss of James Tamou is not a huge deal but it will be just the beginning as the Cowboys try to keep together a side that can win a second title while JT is still in town. They will again be around the mark but an aging side being hit by cap issues is not one to support with any great confidence.
Do It Like The Brownlow: Another year has passed and again the NRL persist in costing themselves plenty in terms of both cash and prestige by running with the same tired Dally M format. The AFL have nailed it with the Brownlow. All voting is kept secret. Each match is read out. It is a night of high prestige. Gambling is central. It is a television event. Everyone who cares about AFL tunes in. Compare that to the Dally M, that is generally considered a joke, with the surprise generally gone, betting banned and the television event a nothing matter. This is the easiest fix with the highest return the NRL have at their disposal but again it will be ignored.
Kieran Foran Will Not Play for the Warriors: Kieran Foran may have signed a one-year deal with the Warriors but it would seem highly unlikely he will play for the club, at least in 2017. His Instagram rant shows he is not ready to end his dicey friendships, even if just for reasons of perception. The NRL almost certainly won’t sign off on his return.
2016 Field Goal Update – 35: Another weekend bereft of a field goal. At least the NSW Cup decider saw a brilliant one-pointer.
Fun Fact #1: Melbourne and Cronulla both have the same number of players with Grand Final experience – 6.
Fun Fact #2: The Storm have played in 6 of the last 11 Grand Finals with Cronulla one of just five teams not to play in one over that span.
Fun Fact #3: Craig Bellamy’s all-time win percentage of 67% is five points higher than both Wayne Bennett and Jack Gibson.
Fun Fact #4: Cronulla are undefeated under Matt Cecchin this season.
Rumour Mill: Jamal Idris is set to return to the NRL next season with the Wests Tigers. The Tigers are also expected to sign Michael Lichaa with the hooker merry-go-round set to see Damien Cook land with Canterbury and Mitch Rein with Parramatta. Paul Vaughan and Shaun Fensom are both looking at a move to the Dragons. Semi Radradra has been linked with a move to the Broncos. Luke Walsh is set to join the Knights next season. Speculation is rife that Canterbury will dump CEO Raelene Castle in the coming weeks.
Betting Market of the Week: Harold Holt will this week:
$3.00: Find his way to a welcoming porch
$2.75: Remain a captive of the Chinese
$1.30: Remain dead at sea as another Australian Rules fan who couldn’t care less about Cronulla
The Barrett and Bozo Show: Scott Fulton is the man currently charged with the Sea Eagles’ recruitment, no doubt a beneficiary of the Bozo nepotism. It is little wonder the Sea Eagles are in all sorts.
What I Like About … James Maloney: Maloney is a footballer’s footballer. He is not an athlete. He is not all intensity, carry on and monotony. He is a thinker. He is a joker. He is loose and talented and results driven. He finds when he needs to – it is why he has played in three of the last six Grand Finals with three different clubs. If the Sharks are to upset the Storm, it will be on the back of some Maloney brilliance.
Game of the Year Nomination, Finals Week 3: Melbourne – Canberra, 14-12. While the prelims lacked the intensity of the Broncos-Cowboys Week 2 classic, the Storm-Raiders clash had plenty of drama, high controversy, finals desperation and some astonishing Rugby League.
Moronic Coaching Decision of the Week: One shouldn’t be too critical of Ricky Stuart after Canberra’s tremendous fairytale run but his decision to let a hobbled Jarrod Croker play on after his ankle injury was costly. It negated the Raiders attack and ensured the Storm could compress their defence. In hindsight, Ricky may have appreciated Croker’s toughness but still replaced him.
The Coaching Crosshairs: The pressure continues to mount on Des Hasler at Canterbury with a good portion of the board looking to oust the prickly mentor. Hasler has already lost nearly all his staff and will likely soon be without top backer in CEO Raelene Castle if the rumour mill has it right. Ivan Cleary has been touted as a potential replacement as has Dean Pay. Even if Hasler does survive, it will be with diminished power and an immediate need for results.
Beard Watch: When it comes to facial hair in the Grand Final, Melbourne definitely have an edge with Tohu Harris, Marika Korobiete and the Bromwich brothers. Cronulla go in with Andrew Fifita and Jayson Bukuya and not much else.
Correspondence Corner: Michael Butterfield, unfortunately, I think that the match review mess is so bad now it is hard to ever consider anything unjust because nothing actually seems just.
Norths Tigers, be sure and certain I’ll be bringing it up with Ikin next time I see him! Triple M and NRL.com also named Moses the top No.6 this year. It makes zero sense. James Maloney was clearly the top five-eighth.
Watch It: A year on, the 2015 Grand Final stands as arguably the greatest in premiership history. Watch this documentary on the brilliant game here.