Dragons and NRL tragic Stephen Gallagher has returned, this time with his grand final preview. Do you agree with his thoughts, and how do you think the game will pan out?
NRL Telstra Premiership 2012 Grand Final – Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs (1) V Melbourne Storm (2) – Sunday, ANZ Stadium. 19.45 local time, 21.45 NZ time.
LAST WEEK: Too slick, and too strong. 40-12 victory over Manly was what Melbourne produced.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs made light work in the second half of the Rabbitohs, blowing them out 32-8.
All the way back in March this journey started – and ever since the season started two teams stood out as special. Two teams that were better than everyone else from day one. Both these teams were slick, dominant, powerful. Both these sides made the Grand Final. It is no fluke that teams 1 and 2 are now playing off for the right to be titled Premiers. The two best sides all season deservedly play this Sunday. Canterbury Bankstown, a family club that is restoring the pride back through this historic side. Melbourne – A team that has been through so much since April 2010 when we all know what happened. Two sides. One match. One winner. The NRL Telstra Premiership 2012 Grand Final.
Whether this game is decided by a point, or a try, or a landslide this is what 16 teams dream about at the season’s start. This game is the epitome of the NRL calander. Tears will be shed, both of overwhelming joy and heart-breaking sadness. Boys will be turned in to men. Soldiers at war. A single play by a single player could be enough to write themselves in to the hall of fame. A conversion, a penalty, a field goal. Pressure is to be soaked up, and not crumbled under. This is the biggest stage, of the game we all love. Only one side can be rewarded with the crown, though a loss can be just more fuel in the fire for the following season. Who has the right to be called the 2012 Premiers? Who knows, so let’s go!
THIS WEEK: Canterbury are a young side built around what works well. Mobile forwards with that play around a style which sees them with ball in hand and throwing the offload at the line to create space for the speedsters outside. They’ve been near perfect in 2012 and on the verge of winning their first premiership title since 2004, this side is not going to bomb out with a poor performance. They are too good for hiccups. The Bulldogs will not fare too much from their successful game plan this season. Many of the team will be in their first NRL Grand Final, and the week is a long one. There’s plenty of experience around the youngsters to let them know that Grand Final week doesn’t roll around all that often for you. I sense that the best is yet to come for the Bulldogs, which is scary. They have been brilliant week in, week out. Is it even possible to top that?
Melbourne and their stars know all too often what this week is going to be like. Many seasoned campaigners will be lapping it up, and taking it in once again. 1999 stands to be the only legitimate title that this club has ever won. They will not dwell over the past, as this is a new team built back up on the grounds of agony. Been through some of the toughest times that any sporting club can has only made them stronger. This week the Storm will be the best they have been in years. A chance to claim a premiership will always bring the best out in the players and their roles on the field. The Storm are deadly from all over the field, and no matter how much the opposition will practice to try bring them down they always find a way.
WHAT TO EXPECT: A team that will not die wondering. The Bulldogs have done too much and have come too far under Supercoach Des Hasler who is coaching in back to back Grand Finals. Ben Barba will be his electric best. No player more deserved than him to claim the Player of the Year medal at the Dally M Awards this year. Halves of Kris Keating and Josh Reynolds will play in their emphatic style of confidence that has seen the two work so well all season. Then there’s James Graham, a player who has lost five Super League Grand Finals in a row. A player that has single-handedly turned matches with his hard work this season is the player that binds a team and makes a good team great. After 80 minutes, the Bulldogs will not have any “What if’s?” in them because I believe that they will leave everything out on the field. They are the team that has grown tremendously over a year and have been the bench-mark. Now, can they turn up, stand up and deliver on their home turf?
Melbourne will live up to the stereotype that has been in front of them for a long time. Tough, gritty, well-drilled, disciplined, brilliant. The Big Three are in the biggest game of their lives once again, and with nothing seemingly able to tare these three down a lot rests on their shoulders. Though there’s more to a team than its spine, Slater, Cronk and Smith are not only legends for Melbourne, but for their state and country. Gareth Widdop and Ryan Hinchcliffe are two more downplayed stars in the side who actually stand out just as much as anyone else. Jason Ryles knows all too well what it’s like to be on the losing side of the week and will be raring to change that.
FINALS X-FACTORS: Ben Barba – Dally M Player of the Year and rightfully so. In the biggest match of his career, Barba will be his brilliant best. No doubt.
Billy Slater – Often referred to as a freak, that’s definitely a compliment in rugby league. Slater has done everything that Barba has, and is the veteran at the back that has never let down.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON: Krisnan Inu – Playing in his third Grand Final, and yet to win one. This Warrior-turned Bulldog mid season has led Inu on a career best form path.
Will Chambers – No one would have thought he’d be playing in this one after being out for the latter part of the season with a blood disorder. Back, and willing to prove a point.
It’s going to be the two best sides all year going up against one another. Evenly matched, there’s no such thing as a clear winner in this one. The Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs have been the benchmark side all season. The most consistent, and are the Minor Premiers. Melbourne have the experience on their side to get up, but it’s never as easy on the day. I feel like this one can go down as being one of the best finals ever played. The calibre of players is phenomenal.
I am going to call it early. The Bulldogs will be the winners. A side that found themselves coach-less at the end of 2011 and now in the running for the big show. A fairy tale story perhaps? This side for me has just too much skill in every single position. More heart, more passion. The Bulldogs to beat Melbourne 23-20