Cronulla Sharks v Windsor Wolves
After some 30 weeks of competition, it all comes down to this. The Cronulla Sharks have been the yardstick of the NSW Cup all season long, winning a staggering 19 games during the regular season and losing on just four occasions. Such was the Sharks' dominance that they claimed the minor premiership outright with still a month left to run in the season.
A lot has been made of the Sharks' relationship with the Melbourne Storm throughout their premiership charge, and we’re not going to go through the long list of pros and cons that come along with having an affiliation with an interstate side, but when mounting an opinion around the benefits that they gain, one should consider some of the following points. Brett Finch has not played for the Sharks since Round 14 and only played eight games in total for the team this season. Maurice Blair has not played for the Sharks since Round 8. Rookie winger Sosaia Feki has not been sighted in the VB NSW Cup since Round 8 after spending the rest of the year in the NRL. They have also lost the likes of Jon Green and Dayne Weston to injury during the course of the season.
The only Melbourne contracted players named to play on Sunday are Junior Moors, Siosaia Vave, Young Tonumaipea and Kirisome Auva’a. All other players are on the Cronulla payroll, including local juniors Chad Townsend, Tyrone Peachey, Stewart Mills, Penani Manumalealii and Michael Lichaa.
If the Sharks do go on to claim the 2013 premiership, they will do so off the back of a defence that has conceded just 14 points a game on average this year. In fact, when the Sharks held the Bears to just six points last week that was the eighth time this year they have held their opponents to eight points or less in a match.
The Windsor Wolves on the other hand have based their premiership credentials around out-and-out unbridled attack. Statistically the best scoring side in the VB NSW Cup this year, the Wolves attack can burn you from anywhere on the park. Eto Nabuli has taken the competition by storm with 28 tries in 25 games thus far while the likes of Travis Robinson, Blake Austin, Vaipuna Tia Kilifi and Luke Capewell have all registered double figures in the try-scoring stakes. Eto Nabuli is the only member of the Wolves' starting backline that has not tasted the NRL, and many pundits including Penrith Panthers general manager Phil Gould have predicted that NRL action will not be far away for him.
And while the Wolves backline may get many of the wraps, their forward pack isn’t exactly chopped liver either. Sam Anderson has been a revelation for the Wolves since joining from the Knights in the off-season, and he has led the way along with the likes of Nathan Smith, Cameron Ciraldo and Anthony Cherrington. It seems only fitting that Guy Missio will be seated in the coaches box for what looms as the club's final game in the VB NSW Cup. Missio will still not have forgotten his experience from the 2010 Grand Final when the Wolves went down to the Bulldogs, and he will be hoping to reverse the result this time around.
Although the Sharks' defence is staunch, the Wolves will know they can hurt them having already run in 64 points in the three previous meeting between the teams this year. Nabuli has scored four tries in his three outings against the Sharks so Nathan Stapleton will have his hands full keeping the ‘Fijian Flyer’ quiet. On the flip-side, Young Tonumaipea has scored three tries in his three games against the Wolves, so look for both of these wingers to make an impact at some stage on Sunday.
This grand final looms as a classic contest between attack and defence, and depending on your particular penchant for how you like the game to be played, you are likely to have a fair bit of fun watching this one.
Head To Head In 2013: Cronulla got the better of Windsor 29-16 at Centrebet Stadium in Round 9 before clinching a nail-biting 26-24 win at Henson Park in Round 17. However, the Wolves hold bragging rights after their 24-22 victory at Remondis Stadium in Finals Week 1.
Referee: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1, LIVE on Channel 9
Radio coverage courtesy of 2GB, Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM and ABC Grandstand (More details here)
Prediction: We could honestly see either of these sides winning if they play up to their best. We'll tip Windsor to get up by the barest of margins in ‘golden point’. Wolves by one point.