Petero Civoniceva, NRL.com
If there is one thing I have learnt throughout this finals series, it is never to write the Manly Sea Eagles off.
You can't question the toughness of this Manly side. The past few weeks we've seen a lot of people – myself included – doubting their ability to come through what has been a very tough run to the grand final. They've had to do it the hard way but they have displayed an unbelievable resilience along the way. It's not just physical toughness, it's also mental toughness to be able to hang in those really hard games and pull through.
It has been outstanding the way Manly has battled to get themselves out of some tough situations. When everyone has been looking for fatigue to set in, they've done the opposite. And that's despite the fact that no one would have blamed them if they had fallen down. They've had a ready-made excuse because of what they have been through yet instead they hang in there and hang in there until the time is right to strike. They've certainly stamped themselves as a real force in this competition and deserve their chance to lift the NRL trophy.
Having said that, I'm still going to tip the Roosters to win the premiership on Sunday – not so much because of what Manly has been through but because they have just been so good in 2013.
There are a number of key factors to consider. First, the Roosters have had an opportunity to rest and the fact that Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has only recently come back means he will be fresh and feeling good heading into this game. That's a huge bonus for them given how important he is to their pack.
Secondly, the Roosters' defence has been the benchmark for all NRL teams this year. They have plenty of energy off the line, continue to work hard for each other and are just so difficult to break. It's going to take a very good attacking performance to get through this wall-like defence of the Roosters and so far in 2013 the Sea Eagles have struggled to break them down, having scored just 16 points against them in three games.
So for me it will be the Roosters in a tight one. I've spoken about Manly's fatigue factor but they keep proving me wrong so you would have to think they will last the full 80 minutes this week. They will get themselves up for it but the Roosters have been so good this year and it's hard to go past them.
If Manly is to spring the upset, their big match experience is going to be crucial. They've got so many players who have been there and done that in terms of playing finals football. They know how to win games no matter what the situation might be. That could be the difference at the end of the day. You look across the paddock and there is so much State of Origin experience and Test match experience. They've also got six players that have played in all four grand finals Manly has contested over the past seven years. That experience is invaluable in these games.
For me, the game will be won and lost in the halves. It's going to be a great match-up which I believe will determine who the dominant team is. Can Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney get on top of Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran? That will be a great battle as will the contest between the forward packs. Looking at the Roosters' pack, they're primed for a big, physical encounter. So we've got this huge battle in the middle and then it will come down to the direction provided by the halves.
And I've got one more tip for you ahead of the big game – Jake Friend will win the Clive Churchill medal! The Roosters hooker has been great this year and if he can work the middle of the ruck and work those big boys around in partnership with the halves he could be in for a big game.
Whichever way it goes, I'm anticipating one of the best grand finals in years. There is a great rivalry there between the two teams and the close game they had a few weeks ago was a great appetizer to what we're going to see on Sunday.