The stage is set for an alluring season decider with the Sydney Roosters challenging reigning premiers Melbourne Storm in the 2018 NRL Grand Final at ANZ Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Sydney advanced through their preliminary final with their impressive defence stopping the Rabbitohs from scoring a single try. The Roosters were under the pump with errors but held their cool to capitalise with possession and bury their arch-rivals with a 12-4 victory.
Down in Melbourne, the Storm dominated the Sharks to have a 20-point lead at halftime. Cronulla was the only team to score a try in the second half but the Storm’s defence allowed them to comfortably cruise to a 22-6 scoreline.
Cooper Cronk has been named in jersey No.23 and Mitchell Aubusson at halfback as Cronk attempts to overcome a shoulder injury. Latrell Mitchell and Dylan Napa return after missing last week and the past three matches respectively through suspension. Mitchell will start in the centres, with Napa to come off the interchange bench. Victor Radley has been named to start the match at lock once again. Paul Momirovski has been moved back to the interchange bench.
The retiring Ryan Hoffman is in the extended 21-man squad on the reserves list. The rest of the side is unchanged from their win over the Sharks.
The best two sides of the regular season face off, adding to another captivating chapter to their history. Head-to-head in these meetings the Storm have had the wood over the Tri-Colours with a one-point victory in round 16 and a three-point margin in round 23, 2017. These teams have been dominant in the last six years, with the Roosters winning four minor premierships and Melbourne two. Last time these clubs met in finals was the 2015 qualifying final; the Storm triumphed 20-18.
In what seems to be a well-scripted final to a chaotic competition, with the closest season in recent memory coming to an end, it’s fitting the Storm and Roosters clash in the big dance. Many headlines will circulate around the players involved, with Billy Slater retiring and Cronk battling against his former side of the last decade, but what will grab the most attention will be the individuals in key positions.
In contests across the park from each team, there will be two players who will ultimately have the biggest bearings on their title hopes, James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters) and Cameron Munster (Melbourne). The young stars coming through the competition have been highlighted through the efforts of Tedesco and Munster’s current season; they now have the chance to impact heavily on the grand final and seize the Provan-Summons Trophy.
The Storm have had the luxury of having Munster becoming the big time playmaker and stepping up in the crucial moments nearly every game. The natural footballer mould is a rare sight in rugby league these days, with many players having manufactured ways of playing and set in stone structures to their style of footy; Munster is a complete package, being able to provide what his side requires in nearly every situation.
Being one of the most incredibly adaptive five-eighths with his defence strong and attacking barrage, Munster is one of the best in the NRL, able to create an ideal calculated result that the Storm continues their pressure or pile on points. Cameron has produced 15 try assists, seven forced dropouts, nine line breaks and 82 tackle busts, showing why he is so versatile off the back of service from Cameron Smith and assistance by Slater. If the Storm are to go all the way, Munster will need to be at his elusive best, creating the opportunities for his side with the five-eighth playing to what his opposition’s movements and decisions are in defence to break open the match and dominate with uncertainty for the Roosters.
The Roosters fullback has been one of the buys of the season, with Tedesco holding the key to victory for his side in the grand final. The number one has been outstanding with the progression of his form and his best football being played late in the season, breaking down teams with his evasive footwork and barnstorming tackle breaks, cutting sides to pieces.
Tedesco has become an incredibly potent fullback in not only the red-zone of his opposition’s 10-metre line but the middle of the field, producing destructive running that no big men or tiresome players can defend well enough to stop his momentum that ultimately leads to the Roosters getting an advantage. James has recorded a stunning 157 tackle breaks but the evolution of his game has been picking out his backs for an impressive 15 try assists and averaging 185 run metres, becoming an elite fullback in his first season at a new club.
For the Roosters to snatch the win in the grand final, Tedesco will be as unselfish as possible, picking out moments in the match where he needs get involved, picking out lack of numbers in defence for an attacking raid to link with his halves and other backs or set up for attacking formations close to the line and create opportunities for points, as they will come at a premium as in any final.
In their last eight meetings, three matches have been decided by one point and two decided by three or fewer points.
Between 1998 and 2017, 14 of 20 grand finals have included either Melbourne (eight) or the Roosters (six); this will be their first meeting in a grand final.
Roosters: 1 James Tedesco, 2 Daniel Tupou, 3 Latrell Mitchell, 4 Joseph Manu, 5 Blake Ferguson, 6 Luke Keary, 7 Mitchell Aubusson, 8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 9 Jake Friend (c), 10 Siosiua Taukeiaho, 11 Boyd Cordner, 12 Isaac Liu, 13 Victor Radley.
Interchange: 14 Dylan Napa, 15 Zane Tetevano, 16 Paul Momirovski, 17 Ryan Matterson.
Reserves: 18 Lindsay Collins, 19 Nat Butcher, 20 Sean O’Sullivan, 23 Cooper Cronk.
Storm: 1 Billy Slater, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Will Chambers, 4 Curtis Scott, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Brodie Croft, 8 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Cameron Smith (c), 10 Tim Glasby, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Joe Stimson, 13 Dale Finucane.
Interchange: 14 Kenny Bromwich, 15 Christian Welch, 16 Brandon Smith, 17 Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
Reserves: 18 Ryan Hoffman, 19 Jahrome Hughes, 20 Sam Kasiano, 21 Cheyse Blair.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Sunday 30th September
Venue: ANZ Stadium
Referee: Gerrard Sutton and Ashley Klein
WHO WILL WIN?
These two modern NRL powerhouses have now got the task of taking out one another in their first ever grand final. The results of their past fixtures will have some indication on their form heading into the last game of 2018, with the Melbourne Storm performing below their best in the lead up to the finals, but also just scraping past their first week. The Roosters have compiled a number of strong wins in the past month, taking out two full-strength top four sides in Sydney to now be in the final. The Storm are aiming for back-to-back titles, not done by a club for over two decades, with their side stacked and completely ready; with all positions fit it will now be whether they have the calibre of polish that their halves have had in the past two seasons in opposition halfback Cronk. Sydney see the return of their superstar centre Mitchell with an additional representative prop in Napa also bolstering the side; though it will be highly unlikely Cronk will be 100 per cent to play, but being as experienced and clutch as he is they will risk the elite playmaker to play the Storm in what could be crucial to their winning chances.
The match is incredibly hard to predict, however one element overwrites much of the efforts across the attacking skill of each team or the players’ experience like Smith, Slater or Cronk, it will be the monumental defence that the Roosters have produced this season – able to withstand teams in any circumstance; with possession that has not flourished they have been able to defend to a standstill and win with the smallest of margins in the biggest of games. Like many experts say – defence wins premierships, the Roosters will score enough points through Tedesco, Luke Keary and Cronk to then heroically defend and shut down the Storm’s efforts to claim the 2018 title.
Prediction: Sydney Roosters by four.