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2017 NRL Grand Final preview and expert tips

Posted on 27/09 by Joe Gann

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Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys betting
Team Odds
Melbourne Storm $1.28 Bet Now
North Queensland Cowboys $3.80 Bet Now
The line-up for the 2017 Grand Final is one that few would have predicted at the start of the series, as the Melbourne Storm and the North Queensland Cowboys prepare to battle it out for the greatest prize of all.

The clash between the Minor Premiers and the team who limped into the top eight on the last day of the regular season sounds like a mismatch on the face of it – on the eve of Round 26, the Queenslanders were paying a staggering $67 to take the title. Fast forward three weeks though, and the battle-hardened Cowboys have overcome all the hurdles set before them - three tough away games in Sydney - and stand on the brink of an incredible achievement.

The series is a great leveller and performances from the home and away year are irrelevant once the cut and thrust of knock-out football commences; the Cowboys have played the best football of all the teams in the finals and have built up a head of steam that is going to be difficult to counteract. High intensity encounters on a weekly basis appears to bring the best out of them, as the Sharks, Eels and Roosters found to their cost.

One way or another, this game is going to provide a fairy-tale end to the season. For Melbourne, Cooper Cronk will bring the curtain down on his glittering Storm career on the biggest stage of all - a fitting tribute to one of the game’s true greats. However, the idea that a victory is pre-ordained is anathema to Cronk, who has dismissed such notions and stated that his preparation for the game will be to concentrate on getting the basics right and earning the win through hard work.

However, this will be the veteran playmaker’s seventh final in twelve years, and he will be desperate to finish with a winners’ medal this time around. It is possible that the Grand Final may also be the last time Billy Slater steps foot on the playing field; the veteran full-back is yet to announce his intentions regarding next season and the Storm could be saying goodbye to two members of their venerated holy trinity at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.

On the other side of the fence, the Cowboys have experienced a season in which they have been decimated by injury at times but have tackled that adversity with courage and determination - a second Premiership in three years would be an astonishing achievement. Losing co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott so early on in proceedings could have offered an easy excuse for an underwhelming campaign, but Paul Green’s men have adapted and grown as the season has gone on and are now within touching distance of one of the most remarkable success stories in NRL history.

The Cowboys are preparing for one final push at the end of what has been a gruelling period, emerging triumphant each week despite starting all fixtures as firm outsiders. The sensational 29-16 Preliminary final win over the Roosters emphasised their ability to finish games strongly as they outlasted the Tricolours on their home patch. It was a victory masterminded by Michael Morgan, who has developed enormously and grown into his new leadership role - a natural ball-runner, the improvement in his kicking game and game management over a four-month period has been astounding.

Ably assisted by the likes of Ethan Lowe, Lachlan Coote and Jake Granville, the Cowboys’ crusade has been a superb collaboration between classy players at the top of their game. A hallmark of their finals run has been their ability to make the most of their opportunities, with clinical finishing central to their success; Kyle Feldt who has been excellent in that department in recent weeks, now has five tries in his last five games. The mid-season capture of Te Maire Martin is also proving to be a masterstroke, with the young gun complementing Morgan fantastically well in the creative hub of the side. An added sprinkle of stardust comes in the formidable shape of Jason Taumalolo, the jewel in the crown at Townsville; he and Morgan have been the major catalysts for this phenomenal series crusade.

One of the biggest stories of the week is whether Paul Green will resist the temptation to recall a fit-again Matt Scott, who has been on the sidelines since March with an ACL injury; Green has acted quickly to pour cold water on that rumour to prevent unsettling a group of players who have been responsible for reaching Sunday’s final.

The Storm will no doubt have a burning desire to exorcise the demons from last year’s grand final heartbreak. The memories of Cronulla’s victory will have haunted them this year but have also provided extra motivation to go one better this term. On a run of nine straight victories, and having experienced a relatively undemanding path to the final, it is hard to make a case against Craig Bellamy’s side. The shut-out of Brisbane, who was the competition’s second highest scorers, in last week’s Grand Final qualifier was impressive in the calculated, methodical way the Storm ensured their progress.

Despite uncharacteristic flaws in the attacking part of their game, they prevailed on the back of the dependable rock that is their defensive unit - not for the first time this season. The squad will probably remain unchanged again, and the serene preparation, with no injury or suspension problems to worry about, will stand them in good stead. They will no doubt rely on the tried and tested methods that have served them so well so far; perseverance and execution of the game plan is a constant feature in the Melbournians’ make-up.

Their defensive structure is the bedrock from which much of their success stems and they will trust that perfectly honed organisational formula to see them home once again.

Sunday night will see the Cowboys enjoy the goodwill of the vast majority of neutrals; a consequence of the support for their underdog status and odds-defying wins so far. The storm will inevitably be cast in the role of the villains, a position they have become accustomed as resentment still lingers from the legacy of past salary cap scandals. For the New South Wales public, it is an unpalatable situation that the trophy will be taken to its new home either North or South of the border, under the guardianship of fierce rivals from Queensland or Victoria.

It will be a fascinating clash between two teams who began this finals’ journey from opposite ends of the spectrum: Do the Cowboys have it within them to conjure up one last superhuman effort and claim their greatest scalp of all? Or is the imposing Purple Wall one obstacle too many at the end of an energy-sapping run of games?
Prediction: Premiers Melbourne Storm.

Selection: Storm to win

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