|NRL Grand Final Preview
Melbourne Storm v Cronulla Sharks
Sunday, October 2, 7.15pm (AEST), ANZ Stadium, Sydney
|Best Bet: Melbourne WIN ($1.84)
Other: Under 34.5 ($1.90)
Value: Melbourne/Under 34.5 ($3.50)
Melbourne return to a stage that is most familiar, playing in their sixth decider in 11 years as their dynasty atop the NRL mountain rolls on. They will tackle a Cronulla team that 50 years after coming into existence are still on the search for their first title and will play in their first Grand Final since the 1997 Super League season and their first Grand Final proper since 1978. Premiership deciders don’t come much more compelling than this.
Melbourne enter the Grand Final unchanged from the team that defeated Canberra. The Storm team contains internationals Cameron Smith, Jesse Bromwich, Cooper Cronk, Kevin Proctor, Will Chambers and Tohu Harris. Smith, Bromwich, Cronk, Proctor and Chambers are the only Storm players who were there in the 2012 decider. Dale Finucane is the only other Melbourne player with Grand Final experience. Key players missing through injury include fullback Billy Slater (who played just one game in 2016) and Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
Cronulla are also unchanged from the team that dominated North Queensland last week. The Sharks have a team littered with rep players including internationals Andrew Fifita, Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Gerard Beale along with state players Jack Bird, James Maloney, Michael Ennis and Wade Graham. Lewis, Maloney, Ennis, Ben Barba, Matt Prior and Chris Heighington are the six Sharks players to have played in a Grand Final. Sam Tagataese is the only key Shark who won’t play.
Matt Cecchin will take lead referee duties with Ben Cummins his assistant. Bernard Sutton will take the video referee duties. Matt Cecchin has refereed 17 finals. This will be his second Grand Final after he was an assistant in the 2011 decider. Melbourne are 3-3 under Cecchin this season while Cronulla are a perfect 4-0. Since 2013, the Storm are 9-7 under Cecchin while the Sharks are 11-4.
Melbourne and Cronulla have met 31 times and the Storm have won 21 of the 31 matches played. Included in that dominance is 11 wins in the last 13 matches including the minor-premiership playoff in Round 26 won 26-6 by the Storm. The teams have played off in just one final with the Storm winning 28-0 in 2008 to eliminate the Sharks. Melbourne have won 8 of the 14 matches played in Sydney, the majority of which were at Shark Park. None of the last three matches have topped 32 points while 11 of the last 15 have failed to break 38 points. The teams have never met at ANZ. Jesse Bromwich has scored in 3 of his last 5 against the Sharks. Cronulla half James Maloney made his debut with Melbourne while his opposite Blake Green spent 2008-09 with the Sharks.
Melbourne won the minor premiership and were the standard in 2016 with a 19-5 record and a +261 differential. The Storm have again topped the defensive rankings conceding only 12.5ppg while they rank sixth in attack with 22.8ppg. Since Round 11, the Storm rank third in attack with 23.1ppg while they were the top defensive team conceding 12.5ppg. Melbourne dominated premiers North Queensland and then Canberra – both on home soil – in their two finals matches and have conceded an average of 9.3 points a match in their last three. The Storm are 6-2 against Top 5 teams this year. Cronulla finished third in the regular season though won just 1 of their last 6 matches. Their +176 differential was good for fourth while they rank second in attack (24.2ppg) and defence (16.8ppg). Since Round 11, the Sharks rank seventh in attack with 21.7ppg and fourth in defence conceding 17.5ppg. Cronulla turned their form around in the finals with a gritty 16-14 win in Canberra before winning 32-20 against the Cowboys. The Sharks have conceded 20-plus in 4 of their last 7.
Cameron Smith v Michael Ennis. There are big matchups all across the park but in a match that will be defence oriented it will be the rakes that will be so critical here. Both have plenty of big stats in their favour. Smith is the greatest hooker of all-time, a three-time premiership winner who has 15 assists this year to go with 43 tackles a match. Ennis has played in Grand Finals with three clubs now and has 10 assists this year to go with 37 tackles. It is their intangibles though that separate them. Both are relentless competitors and true leaders of men. Smith’s edge comes though with his ability to control the tempo of matches as well as his own emotions. If Smith can play the conductor, Melbourne have one hand on the premiership.
Stats That Matter
Melbourne are 15-11 ATS this season and are the leading under team with an 18-8 under number. Cronulla are also 15-11 ATS with a 14-12 under number. The Storm have gone under in 8 of their last 10. The Sharks have covered just 3 of their last 8. Just 1 of the last 5 Grand Finals have topped 36 points while just 2 of the last 10 have topped 40. Favourites have won and covered 7 of the last 8 Grand Finals with 7 of the last 8 Grand Finals going under. Since 2008, Cronulla are 5-4 ATS in finals with a 5-4 total record in finals while the Storm are 9-10 ATS with a 14-5 under number. Three of the last four teams to concede 20-plus in a preliminary final have gone on to win the premiership. The stronger defensive team from the regular season has won 6 of the last 7 Grand Finals. Melbourne are 4-2 in Grand Finals all-time while Cronulla are 0-3. Since 2012, Cronulla are a poor 1-5 straight and ATS at ANZ while Melbourne are 3-2 straight and ATS. The Storm have covered 11 of their last 14 when longer than $1.75 while they are 8-2 ATS since 2012 when favoured by less than a try. Cronulla have covered six straight when a small outsider. Since 2013 the Storm are 28-18 under interstate including 14-11 under when an interstate favourite (10-15 ATS) and 19-11 under at night. The under is 27-18 when interstate favourites scored 14 or fewer the week prior since 2013. The under is 81-62 when an outsider scored 30 the week prior with the Sharks 6-1 under in the situation. The under is 17-5 off a Cronulla double digit win with the Sharks 9-13 ATS.
Melbourne are an outstanding 18-1 when ahead at the break this year. Cronulla are an impressive 5-4 when behind at halftime this year.
Melbourne are an outstanding bet in this one and along with the under can be bet with total confidence. The Storm should be significantly shorter – around the $1.40 mark – and the fact the book is offering $1.84 is a gift with Wolfy rating this as perhaps the best Grand Final bet in history. The Storm have historically dominated the Sharks. They are a better team on paper. The better defensive team typically wins the Grand Final. Favourites win and cover the big one. The Storm usually splash egg on the faces of bookies and punters who underestimate them. Melbourne should win this defensive grind – and it will be very low-scoring – with some ease. Melbourne are five-chip plays as is the under with so many great betting angles.
How It’s Shaping Up
Melbourne by 10
Melbourne/Under 34.5 ($3.50)
Best First/Last Tryscorer
Jesse Bromwich ($34.00)
Other Recommended Bets
Under 34.5 ($1.90)