The Storm are short priced favourites for this Sunday’s NRL Grand Final, a wealth of experience, some real game breakers and a dream run into the GF. The Eels on the other hand have been the fairytale of the season, overcoming a horror start to 2009 to roar into contention and knock off teams Ranked 1,2 and 3 in their run to the final.
For Melbourne, it’s widely known they are possibly the best drilled and most regimented team in the NRL. Well coached, in recent weeks they have executed almost perfectly to blow both Manly and the Broncos off the park.
They did however enjoy a weeks break which while freshening them up – may work against them if this match turns into a long, drawn out battle.
What will concern coach Craig Bellamy is the fact that the Storm have faced a Manly side that were down on form and confidence, and after a weeks rest they played a Broncos side missing it’s main rudder in Peter Wallace and a batch of youngsters that really never tested the Melbourne outfit.
The Storm did work Israel Foloau over very well, they targeted their former player who lines up in the centres for the Broncos and exposed his still inexperienced defensive methods. Melbourne shattered the confidence of the Broncos early and will no doubt be looking to do a similar job on Eels flanker Eric Grothe Jnr who regularly flies out of the defensive lines – at times coming up with thin air.
Melbourne’s advantages are surely on the fringes, they have a unstoppable force in Greg Inglis – hitting form at the right time. You count on Inglis to bag at least one try and the rangy back defends extremely well.Â Then you have the lightning injection of Billy Slater, who will regularly chime into their backline and is more than comfortable grubbering or chipping ahead for himself.
Do not discount the speed of Slater, his chase on the back of a Cronk or Finch kick is almost League fastest. Timing is almost always perfect with Slater.
The Storm have changed their attack formation in recent weeks, Bellamy has their line set much deeper – giving much more time for the outside men to create doubt in the opponents mind. Their deeper style gives them more options in terms of a kick behind the line or harder to read second man plays.
If Melbourne get too flat in their attack, expect the likes of a Luke Burt or Eric Grothe to try and pluck an intercept – especially from a Finch or Cronk cutout pass.
Brett Finch has been much talked about this week – but he really could hold the key for his former side. Finch too has his defensive problems especially when he is caught defending his line close to the centre middle of the field. A hard runner or inside ball at pace to a Moi Moi or a mobile Lowrie could pose a serious problem for the little Storm no.6.
The Storm face their biggest test in the forwards. While they have a bigger pack than the Eels with more than enough big game and representative honours, they haven’t been consistently on top during 2009. Their outing against Manly in the finals was much more impressive, they withstood the ‘heat’ applied by the Eagles – who literally tried to bash them out of contention.
Big men like White, Lima and Hoffman didn’t get frustrated – they kept working for each other and continued to do the little things right. This is such a crucial element in most NRL games but obviously the Grand Final. A simple dropped play the ball while being pressured, trying to play it ‘too’ quick or gifting a penalty – possession and completed sets are oh so valuable.
Nothing you don’t know there, however if both teams are near perfect in their completions and penalties given away – it’s going to take an offload or something special to get field position or points.
This is where the Eels could have their success. They are certainly up against it, the Storm have class virtually everywhere – but their recent spate of off-loads has opposition teams unable to prepare for them defensively.
The mobile Eels forwards can hit and spin, at times offloading highly risky passes – but if they stick, it really throws the opponents defence into two minds. It’s easy to say ‘wrap up the ball in the tackle’ or hit harder to floor the attacker, but after some offload success, the defender can get too concerned with wrapping up the ball and attacker busts the arm tackle, or the defender is more concerned about keeping on his feet to make a secondary tackle if needed.
It throws doubt into the defence, and game plans are quickly forgotten.
The brut force and roll of Fui Fui Moi Moi gives the Eels such an edge. If the battered and bruised prop can generate his force, it almost provides the Eels an extra forward. It allows their other prop Nathan Cayless to enter a more ‘ball playing mode’. If Moi Moi is eating metres and the hookers are able to get out quickly and run direct, a secondary running Cayless can be less concerned with metres, the mobile prop can optionally hit, spin and offload – creating more doubt.
Injuries are playing a part for the Eels, their wounded props could buckle in high intensity battles midfield. The Eels will need Grothe to continue his recent mid-field assistance, the hard running winger has taken pressure off his big men, especially against the Bulldogs when they lost Cayless early – but coming centre field and hitting up with force. Grothe is another player than can throw a ball from any position, but his lower percentage offloads could hurt his side.
While Grothes concerning defence has been much talked about, he could hold an advantage for the Eels in the air. His height could prove very handy against little man Steve Turner – but this could be cancelled out by the small Luke Burt matching up against Dane Nielson.
It’s hard to go past the Melbourne Storm in this match. Their endless experience at this level will be invaluable, combined with their recent good form and injury-free run through the finals they should have too much in the tank. Disciplined and boasting a good bench roster, they’ll be primed to get back what was taken from them by Manly last year.
The Eels will have a big Sydney crowd on their side and play an exciting brand of football with their young brigade of backs. Their 12 weeks of magical football is beginning to take it’s toll, with injuries creeping in – the Storm however, must deal with the pressure of being expected to win. Any hint of early nerves from the Melbourne side may open the door slightly, and this young Eels outfit won’t die wondering.
Melbourne by 12.