They used to talk about the 'Big Four' match winners at the Melbourne Storm a decade ago and while the makeup of that quartet has changed the Storm still have a 'Big Four' that will get them home against the Sydney Roosters on Sunday.
Greg Inglis is long gone and Cooper Cronk has joined the Roosters but the Storm still have Cameron Smith and Billy Slater. Cameron Munster has stepped up to fill the Cronk void and in the background they have coach Craig Bellamy pulling the strings.
For me, Bellamy and Smith are the brains behind the Storm. I watch their interaction at press conferences and you can see they bounce off each other. Everything they do and say is so smart and I just know that when they put their heads together this week to come up with a plan to beat the Roosters they are going to get it right. Bellamy is like an extra player for the Storm. He's the leading coach in the game today and that is a massive advantage.
I have said it all about Smith in the past but the key with him is that he can control the tempo of a game from start to finish. He just never makes a foolish move. I watch him play today and he is performing as well as he ever has. It can be just a pass here and a kick there from Smith and 12 points are the result. He has so much time, like Wally Lewis did in his pomp.
Munster is a time bomb waiting to explode, and when he does he is virtually unstoppable. He will play the way Bellamy wants him to but then pick his mark when the Roosters forwards tire. He will look for the wounded wildebeest, likely on an edge, and slice through.
Munster will not be fazed by the occasion. He will relish it. He seems like the kind of guy who just treats every game the same.
James Tedesco and Billy Slater have both had great years but I believe Slater fits in with the Storm style of play better than Tedesco does at the Roosters. Tedesco is great in broken play and has improved his passing game but Slater has been chiming into the Storm backline for over a decade now. If the Roosters allow Melbourne to play the way they do then Slater will come into his own. Trent Robinson will have his players clued up about what Billy does. They will be well prepared, but stopping him is another matter.
Last week the Storm got the better of Cronulla early on and they were in cruise mode in the second half. They have another gear to go to and I have the sense that they are saving their best until last.
The Roosters defended brilliantly against the Rabbitohs but that would have taken a lot out of them physically. The Storm will throw more at them and that is frightening for the Roosters.
When I look at the key match-ups between individuals I reckon the Storm have the edge.
I will be surprised of Cronk plays with his busted shoulder. If he does he will be targeted by his old teammates and it is a big risk for the Roosters. I can't see how he will be functional. One hit on that shoulder early and he could be gone. If he's not there then it is a massive loss because there is not a situation in a big game that Cronk has not experienced. The Roosters need him at his best to win.
I like the way Brodie Croft has come back into the Melbourne starting side. He was overplaying his hand in his first stint but he's come back in and shown a lot more composure. When he does inject himself, and we've seen it in the last two, he comes up with the right play.
I reckon Felise Kaufusi and Jesse Bromwich have an edge, on form, over Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. They are all great players but Kaufusi is a beast on the field these days. He punches into holes with his line running so well and his defence has gone up a notch. Bromwich does the tough stuff like Waerea-Hargreaves but he offers that bit extra with his late feet at the line.
You often hear Melbourne players talk about how concentrating on the "process" and not the "result" is the key to their success.
I am sure they will abide by those processes in the grand final but when I look across the park they have so many individuals who can change the course of a game.
Melbourne will frustrate the hell out of the Roosters and they will grind away but these days they just have more attacking weapons than they did in the past. Their wingers, Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu, can score from anywhere. Addo-Carr broke open last year's grand final when he got just a sniff of a chance and it won't surprise me if he does something similar again.
I tipped Melbourne to go back-to-back in one of my first columns for NRL.com at the start of the year and I'm not changing my mind.
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