Grand Final for the Ages: For the second straight year, we have had a truly incredible Grand Final. It was a battle between probably the two best teams of 2016. And both teams absolutely delivered.
Cronulla shot from the gate like a bull with its tail on fire. They were unstoppable. They brought such an energy that the Storm were caught completely off guard. But when the Sharks went in just 8-0 up at halftime, it didn’t fell like enough. And it wasn’t.
The Storm rope-a-doped their way back into the game, first through Will Chambers, who had arguably his finest first grade match, and then through Jesse Bromwich. When the Storm hit the front, the match seemed all but over. The Storm don’t throw away leads. And they didn’t really this time. It was just a brilliant Andrew Fifita try, arguably one of the finest in Grand Final history, that won the Sharks their first premiership.
Melbourne did not put their best performance out. Cooper Cronk was totally nullified. Cheyse Blair and Blake Green were found out as the ordinary players they are.
But this was Cronulla’s night. It appeared as if victory was their destiny. They did not have a single bad player. And it was up, up Cronulla on a night the faithful will never forget.
Churchill Controversy: Andrew Fifita was without question the best player on the field on Sunday night. He was immense. He was a game-changer. He scored an incredible decisive try. He deserved the Clive Churchill Medal. Should he have been playing? Probably not. But politics should not have come into awarding the medal. If he was allowed to play, he was allowed to win.
Mal Divides the Nation: Queensland are without question the premier Rugby League state. Their record speaks for itself. But nearly every controversial selection call went in favour of Queensland. How Justin O’Neill was picked in front of Joey Leilua is mind-boggling. Paul Gallen’s omission was just wrong when all older Queensland players were picked. But for the most part, it is an interesting squad ushering in a new generation.
Post-Mortem for the Grand Finalists: Cronulla and Melbourne and their outlook for 2017.
CRONULLA SHARKS: Cronulla Sharks, defending premiers – it has quite the ring to it. The Sharks go into 2017 in a strong position. Only Michael Ennis departs but he is a big loss. Manaia Cherrington is a promising young player but he has his work cut out for him. The Sharks must also face the difficulty of going back-to-back, something no team has done in two decades. Cronulla had a lot of breaks go their way in 2016 and will probably regress in 2017. They have the talent though to again be around the mark. Shane Flanagan has done an excellent job in constructing a quality roster and teams with that much talent usually finish around the mark.
MELBOURNE STORM: This is all anyone needs to know about the Melbourne Storm. Craig Bellamy. Cameron Smith. Cooper Cronk. Those three alone should almost guarantee another Top 4 finish. Billy Slater will likely return and Josh Addo-Carr joins, giving Melbourne more depth out wide. The No.6 jersey is wide open but really is just a complementary role. The biggest pack in the game will again dominate their rivals physically. The Storm are as well placed in 2017 to win a title as any other team.
2016 Field Goal Update: 35 – An entire finals series without a field goal. What is going on with the world. At least we had the classic in the ‘Million Pound Game’ that saw Hull KR relegated on the back of a wild finish and a 45-metre field goal.
Fun Fact #1: Elliot Whitehead played the most minutes in 2017, playing 2179 in his debut playing 2179 in his debut NRL season.
Fun Fact #2: Jack Wighton committed the most handling errors with 41.
Fun Fact #3: Michael Ennis conceded the most penalties for the year with 31.
Rumour Mill: There is strong speculation that Brisbane and Parramatta could enter into a major player swap with Semi Radradra heading to the Broncos and Ben Hunt shifting to the Eels. Kevin Proctor is on the verge of signing with the Gold Coast Titans. Jordan McLean could also be out of Melbourne with the Cowboys launching a big bid for him. The Dragons have firmed into favourites to sign Paul Vaughan. Michael Lichaa will almost certainly be at the Tigers next season.
Betting Market of the Week: Andrew Fifita’s will play rep football again:
The Barrett and Bozo Show: The Manly side for next season is awful. Downright awful. They have now gotten worse by trading out one of their best forwards in Jamie Buhrer for an overrated and low on confidence winger in Akuila Uate. Bob Fulton has constructed a genuine wooden spoon winning side. Even his attempts to kill the Northern Eagles provided a team better than what the Eagles will field in 2017.
What I Like About … Cronulla: It has been 50 long years … of heartache, misery, worry, concern … but the Sharks finally have their first premiership. It was a title well earned, well-constructed, well deserved. Even fans of rival clubs could not help but feel a sense of pride when the Sharks faithful belted out ‘Up, Up Cronulla’ upon winning their first premiership.
Game of the Year: The two best games of 2016 – and perhaps the three best – were the Broncos-Cowboys games. The best though – a game some suggest is the best regular season game ever played – was their semi-final that went 90 minutes and was an out-and-out classic that will stand the test of time.
Moronic Coaching Decision of the Week: Mal Meninga’s call to leave James Tedesco out of the Kangaroos squad for the Four Nations was ridiculous. Tedesco is the future of Australia. He is behind Darius Boyd but should be the clear second fullback.
The Coaching Crosshairs: Paul McGregor has only survived at St George Illawarra because Ivan Cleary has knocked back an offer to join the club. McGregor will see out the final year of his contract but is highly unlikely to be offered an extension. The biggest issue for McGregor is his inability to recruit. Players just don’t want to play for him, pure and simple. The decision to stick with McGregor is a weak one but one pure Peter Doust.
Beard Watch: The bearded team of 2017:
- James Tedesco
- Josh Mansour
- Konrad Hurrell
- Blake Ferguson
- Semi Radradra
- Blake Austin
- Adam Reynolds
- Reagan Campbell-Gillard
- Cameron Smith
- Junior Paulo
- Bunty Afoa
- Nathan Green
- Greg Bird
Correspondence Corner: Mike Butterfield, the Queensland Cup is an excellent competition. Despite Burleigh’s poor showing.
Davey G, the Steve Gearin try is still my favourite Grand Final try.
Watch It: The Million Pound Game, with it all on the line, needs to be seen to be believed. Watch it here.