Sterling Gold: Why the Warriors can win it

There may not be any reigning premiers, minor premiers, Broncos' fairytale or Tigers' roll involved, but we certainly have an unexpected and entertaining match-up for Sunday's season decider.

Both the Sea Eagles and Warriors are deserved combatants after outstanding performances in their respective preliminary finals.

In fact the last two hours of football produced by these two clubs have been top drawer and gives them a confident platform going into the most important game of the season.

Manly blew North Queensland away in the second-half of their qualifying finals clash in week 1, racking up 42 unanswered points in better than even time. They then led Brisbane 16-0 last Friday night, which meant they had put together 58 straight points in an hour of high-pressure football.

To their credit the Broncos kept coming at them, but after the home side's flying start the result was never really in doubt.

The Warriors have had a tougher road but that has put them in good stead.

Their biggest loss of the season was an inauspicious start to a finals campaign, and that loss to Brisbane could have been the end of the road had North Queensland or Newcastle managed to cause an upset.

The following week they gave the Tigers a start and a beating thanks to a second 40 minutes in which they kept their high-flying opponents tryless.

The most recent team to turn around such a big defeat in finals football were the Cowboys of 2005, who suffered a 50-6 loss to the Tigers before making their way through to the grand final.

The Warriors now do the same after defeating Melbourne in emphatic fashion.

It is easy to get carried away in the moment but in my opinion, apart from conceding a fairly soft early try to Sika Manu, this was the best performance I have seen from the New Zealanders since entering the competition in 1995.

They were energetic, controlled, but most importantly smart in beating the Storm at their own game.

The minor premiers were never allowed into the match – in fact rarely allowed out of their own half – which nullified the impact of potential match-winners Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk.

By forcing Melbourne to continually kick from deep in their own territory the Warriors were able to dominate field position and roll relentlessly up the middle third of the field with their big, mobile forwards.

The two defining moments both came in the form of in-goal kicks.

Almost 15 minutes into the second half after being camped at their own end, Melbourne finally had an attacking set in the opposition 20.

Midway through the count Cooper Cronk opted to roll the ball in-goal only to see it go dead and relieve any pressure that may have been mounted.

It was a rare, but telling, poor decision which illustrated which team was in front both mentally and physically.

Conversely with under five minutes to go Warriors halfback Shaun Johnston was able to force a re-start after placing a difficult grubber in the right spot and almost causing Billy Slater to gift the chasers a try. It was the perfect play at a crucial stage of proceedings and was executed beautifully.

In the past these kicks were likely to lead to different results. Namely the Storm would be likely to force a line drop-out and move into a position of squeezing the opposition into submission, and the Warriors likely to put the ball too far and let the other team off the hook by giving them a free 20-metre tap kick.

Not in this game.

With things going so nicely I don't expect Ivan Cleary to change a winning formula and I think that will mean Russell Packer, Lance Hohaia and Elijah Taylor will again start the game, with Feleti Mateo, Aaron Heremaia and Sam Rapira off the bench.

The gifted Mateo is in career-best form and in the last two matches his final 55 minutes of football has been excellent and suited the occasion.

Against the Tigers when his side were chasing points he was a constant menace with his selective off-loads, as well as crossing for a timely try.

Against the Storm and defending a lead he was able to play like a front-rower in taking the tough metres and only considering a pass when he had done so.

Manly welcome back their own class back-rower with the return of Glenn Stewart.

His inclusion provides a real balance to their line-up and takes pressure off his inexperienced halves.

Their left-side attack is statistically the best in the league but Stewart's combination to the right with Jamie Lyon and brother Brett provides an equally dangerous two-pronged assault.

Obviously the halves battle will be influential and all four young men are confident and in great touch.

Significantly they are all prepared to take on the defence and for a ball player that is imperative. To be successful the ball carrier must himself pose a threat and this quartet have all broken the line consistently in recent weeks.

This is the first time since 1947 that two rookie number sevens have faced off in a grand final.

Daly Cherry-Evans is also poised to become just the second rookie of the year to play every game culminating in a grand final victory, a feat previously achieved by Israel Folau for Melbourne in 2007.

The last time these clubs appeared in a grand final they experienced very different results.

In 2008 Manly thrashed the Storm 40-0 in what was the biggest grand final winning margin ever.

This is the Eagles' third appearance in the past five seasons and they remain the only club to have played in a grand final in each of the last six decades.

The Warriors in comparison are grand final novices, with their only previous decider seeing them go down to a Brad Fittler-inspired Roosters 30-8 in 2002.

Lance Hohaia is the only surviving player from that game, although current coach Ivan Cleary was a teammate on the day and is now in a position to steer them to their first ever first-grade title.

May the better team win.