THE LEAD UP
Grand Finals can be a strange game. Emotionally players ride the euphoria from winning the penultimate game of the season through the logistics of obtaining and /or purchasing tickets for the extended family, answer umpteen similar questions about themselves, their family, the chronology of their life, rise at 5am and don the new suit for the grand final breakfast and then fit in some training for the biggest game of the year.
In speaking to players about this strange break of routine for the most important match they will likely play in their career, a worthy response is “better than watching it from home or at a pub”. I am envious of both Craig Bellamy and Des Hasler because it is a great highlight to your professional career and a particularly enjoyable week.
Melbourne Storm love being the front runner. The Storm thrive on setting up a lead and then playing disciplined footy to ensure that the Bulldogs will have to create and score points off their own good play. The Storm will give nothing away. In Cam Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk the Storm have the monopoly of the top ‘2 inches’.
The Canterbury Bulldogs will play their game. All week, scribes have been asking how they planned and demolished the South Sydney Rabbitohs last week. To a man, their response has been “we just play our own style”. Let’s not be naive and suggest they have no plan. Des Hasler has a plan but in essence they are a team that have been coached to have multiple attacking options and styles. They will adapt to the defence that the Storm executes.
Barba v Slater: Brilliant at their best, these two ‘indicators’ will identify where the ball is going 75% of the time. They know it, you know it, but can you stop it.
Hoffman v Jackson: Old Hardhead v Young Buck. Ryan Hoffman has been superb throughout the last few weeks terrorising the opposing halves with powerful runs. Josh Jackson is the boy on the rise with better days ahead. If Jackson limits the effectiveness of Hoffman then the Bulldogs will be closer to wearing the ring.
Morris v Chambers: Josh Morris is almost untouchable at the moment. Will Chambers has been from 13-man to 15-man and back with a stop for a very serious illness. Both have been catalysts for try scoring opportunities or scoring them. If Chambers can deny Morris the chance to get to full speed, the Storm may not have to worry about an asterisk.
Hasler v Bellamy: There will be strategy, counter strategy, Plan A with a Plan B or C in reserve, “you’re the favourites, and we are the underdogs”. These two coaches possess the biggest bouffants in rugby league.
I like the Storm because they have the best dummy half, the best fullback and the best halfback. They are aggrieved that their 2007 and 2009 titles have an asterisk and even though they own the premiership rings, they are not acknowledged in the annals of rugby league history as Premiers.