The Melbourne Storm are the ultimate professionals. The Cronulla Sharks are exciting and constantly pose a threat. On Sunday afternoon both of these clubs will leave nothing in the tank as they chase glory in the biggest match of the year. The one certainty is that a new Telstra Premiership champion will be crowned.
ROAD TO THE GRAND FINAL
The Melbourne Storm have had another dominant season which saw them amass 19 wins from their 24 matches, set the benchmark for defense and discipline in the competition and take out the Minor Premiership. Incredibly the Storm only lost 1 match between round 6 and 22, with that loss coming in the middle of the State of Origin Series when their representative players were unavailable. Craig Bellamy refocused his side for the run into the finals after loses in Round 23 and 25 with a dominate victory over the Sharks in Round 26 to secure the minor premiership. They then carried that form into week 1 of the Finals Series with another impressive victory over, this time over the defending Premiers, the North Queensland Cowboys.
The Cronulla Sutherland Sharks have had a record breaking season in the Shire as they turned a slow start to the year, in which they lost two of their first three matches, into a club record 15 match winning streak that cemented the Sharks in the top 4 and positioned them perfectly for a run all the way to the 2016 NRL Grand Final.
The two sides had contrasting wins in their Preliminary Finals with the Sharks dominating their encounter with a weary North Queensland Cowboys outfit and putting the result beyond doubt early in the second half. Their early dominance of this match allowed the Sharks the luxury of taking their foot off the pedal for much of the last quarter of the game and ease their way into the biggest match of the year without too many bumps or bruises.
The Storm were forced to fight all the way against a defiant Canberra Raiders outfit winning 14 – 12 in front of a jubilant home crowd in Melbourne. The Storm started slow but managed to gain the ascendency and looked to pull away after half time when the Raider Jack Whighton was sent to the Sin Bin. The Raiders scored a late try which setup a grand stand finish, the Storm managed to hold on and book their 7th Grand Final appearance.
MISTAKES, PENALTIES AND MISSED TACKLES: Even though the Sharks have the 3rd best defensive record in 2016 it still doesn’t come close to the defensive juggernaut that Craig Bellamy has assembled in Melbourne in 2016. The Storm has conceded 18 less try’s than the Sharks in 2016. The key to the Storm’s defense is limiting the amount of ball their opponents have inside their attacking zone. The Storm achieves this through not making mistakes and not giving away any penalties.
The Sharks have conceded the second most amount of penalties of all teams in 2016, they sit #3 in the NRL for handling errors conceded and are 7th in missed tackles. The Storm alternatively conceded the least amount of handling errors and missed tackles of all teams in the competition.
The Sharks struggled to score points against the Storm when the two sides clashed in Round 26, if they are going to walk away from ANZ Stadium with the Telstra Premiership in hand on Sunday they will need to limit the amount of points they have to score to emerge victorious. The side that comes out on top in these key statistical areas will emerge victorious in this Grand Final.
It is only fitting that the two most consistent sides in 2016 will battle out the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final on Sunday evening at ANZ Stadium. The Melbourne Storm and Cronulla Sharks have both built successful 2016 campaigns around their ability to control matches; both sides will look to get on top from the outset in what looms as a tight, low scoring contest.
The Storm don’t give their opponents anything, they have a completion rate that is above 80%, don’t give away penalties and have one of the most dominant defensive records from the last 10 years. The Sharks have reinvented their attack in 2016 to be one of the most lethal attacks in the competition, coupled with the third best defensive record and the Sharks look to have all the pieces to end the Premiership drought in the Shire.
The Sharks record at ANZ stadium is not great, they have only won 7 of their 22 matches played there. In contrast the Storm have won many big matches at the ground and hold 12 win and 5 loss record at the homer of the NRL Grand Final.
History has proven that defense is what wins Grand Finals, many of the great champions of the last 20 years have all boasted rock solid defense and come Sunday evening Melbourne will be looking to join this elite group of teams. The Sharks will throw the full might of the forward pack at the Storm early and will look to head into the sheds in front at half-time. If they can maintain this momentum into the second half they have the experience and ability to grind the Storm into the ANZ Stadium turf, however this Melbourne Storm outfit have defied their critics all season long.
The Melbourne Storm are too clinical, professional and ruthless, the Sharks will make this interesting but ultimately the Storm are destined to lift the NRL trophy on Sunday night and should prevail in another Grand Final classic.
Sunday 2nd October 2016, 7:15pm, ANZ Stadium
Storm: 1 Cameron Munster 2 Suliasi Vunivalu 3 Will Chambers 4 Cheyse Blair 5 Marika Koroibete 6 Blake Green 7 Cooper Cronk 8 Jesse Bromwich 9 Cameron Smith 10 Jordan McLean 11 Kevin Proctor 12 Tohu Harris 13 Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14 Kenny Bromwich 15 Tim Glasby 16 Christian Welch 17 Ben Hampton 18 Young Tonumaipea 19 Slade Griffin 20 Matt White 21 Felise Kaufusi 22 Ryan Morgan
Storm Coach: Craig Bellamy
Sharks: 1 Ben Barba 2 Sosaia Feki 3 Jack Bird 4 Ricky Leutele 5 Valentine Holmes 6 James Maloney 7 Chad Townsend 8 Andrew Fifita9 Michael Ennis 10 Matt Prior 11 Luke Lewis 12 Wade Graham 13 Paul Gallen. Interchange: 14 Gerard Beale 15 Chris Heighington 16 Sam Tagataese 17 Jayson Bukuya 18 Kurt Capewell 19 Joseph Paulo
Sharks Coach: Shane Flanagan
Match Referees: Matt Cecchin and Ben Cummins