The NRL Grand Final kicks off on Sunday night when Melbourne and the Cowboys face off in an unlikely battle between class and grit.
Melbourne: Billy Slater; Suliasi Vunivalu, Will Chambers, Curtis Scott, Josh Addo-Carr; Cameron Munster, Cooper Cronk; Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Jordan McLean, Felise Kaufusi, Tohu Harris, Dale Finucane. Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Slade Griffin, Kenneath Bromwich, Tim Glasby.
North Queensland: Lachlan Coote; Kyle Feldt, Justin O’Neill, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein; Te Maire Martin, Michael Morgan; John Asiata, Jake Granville, Scott Bolton, Gavin Cooper, Ethan Lowe, Jason Taumalolo. Ben Hampton, Coen Hess, Matt Scott, Shaun Fensom.
There have been 35 games between these two sides, with the Storm dominating, winning 25 games to the Cowboys 10 victories. The Storm have won all of the last 5 clashes with the last clash in Round 22 producing a 26-8 win for the Victorian side.
Melbourne opened the season in style, starting with a 12-6 win over the Bulldogs in torrential conditions at Belmore. They then travelled to Auckland where they beat the Warriors again in heavy rain. They then held off a strong Broncos side in Round 3 to win 14-12 before overcoming a shocking first half against the lowly Wests Tigers, before running away with a 22-14 victory in the second half. Their defence was epic against Penrith in Round 5 which won them the game. Last week the Storm were unable to avenge their Grand Final defeat to the Sharks, going down 11-2 in miserable weather. They won three straight after, beating Manly 30-26, the Warriors 20-14 and the Dragons 34-22 before losing a high scoring thriller to the Titans 38-36. They bounced back with a stoic defensive effort to beat Souths 14-6 in a dour battle in Perth before Billy Slater annihilated the Knights, leading the Storm to a comfortable 40-12 win. In Round 14 the Storm finally exacted revenge on the Sharks for the 2016 Grand Final with a late try to win 18-13. Their rookies then beat the Cowboys by 1 point before losing by the same margin the next weekend to the Roosters. The Storm then hammered the Broncos 42-12 before dropping their Round 18 game to the Eels 22-6. They then won their last 7 straight games against Canberra, Manly, North Queensland, Sydney, Newcastle, Souths and the Raiders again to comfortably claim the Minor Premiership. In Week 1 of the finals they held out a spirited Parramatta side 18-16. They advanced to week 3 where they produced a brilliant second half to win 30-0.
The Cowboys opened their 2017 season with a golden point victory over a very strong Canberra side, scoring a fortunate try to win 20-16. They again returned to Golden Point in Round 2 in yet another classic match against the Broncos. A field goal by Johnathan Thurston got the Cowboys home 21-20, however they suffered heavy losses with several players injured, which showed the following week when they were overcome by Manly 30-8. The Cowboys bounced back to beat a fast finishing Titans side 32-26. After beating a poor Souths side 20-6 in Round 5, the Cowboys suffered a shock loss to the Tigers 26-16. They staged a second half fightback against the Dragons the following week, but fell short 28-22. They toppled the Knights 24-12 before a dismal effort against the Eels saw them go down 26-6. In Round 10 they cruised to a 30-14 win over an in-form Bulldogs side, before going down to Premiers Cronulla 18-14 in a spirited performance. After the bye, the Cowboys have been much better, beating the Titans 20-8 before easily accounting for the Eels 32-6. They then lost by a point to the Storm before beating; Penrith 14-12; a woeful Raiders side 31-18; Souths 23-10 and then the Warriors 24-12. After they went down to the Roosters 22-16, they have started to struggle, losing again to Melbourne by 18 points, then 24-16 to Penrith and 26-16 to the Sharks. The Cowboys bounced back with a late flurry to topple the Tigers 22-14, before losing their 5th game in 6 weeks, to the Broncos 20-10. The Cowboys then had a miraculous extra time victory over defending premiers Cronulla in the first week of the finals 15-14. They then overpowered Parramatta 24-16. In the third week of the finals they secured a brilliant 29-16 victory over the highly fancied favourites, Sydney Roosters.
Storm class v Cowboys determination – The Storm have outclassed all opponents throughout 2017 while the Cowboys have relied entirely on grit, determination and their fighting spirit after losing their captains and biggest stars Matt Scott and Johnathon Thurston to injury early on in the year.
The Storm should win and they will be favourites. But the Sharks, Eels and Roosters all should’ve beaten the Cowboys and were favourites to do so.
North Queensland $3.85