Well, here we are. After a lengthy season full of ups and downs, hardships and triumphs, we are at the ultimate game. The 2016 NRL grand final.
In what is the 201st NRL game of the season – a gruelling one at that – two teams will go toe-to-toe to take out the highest honour in Australian rugby league.
Hailing from Melbourne are the Storm, a team that have set the benchmark for success and consistency over the last 6-7 years. Led by master coach Craig Bellamy, the Storm side is full of talented, experienced players, youthful exuberance and unsung heroes, all of whom play a role in the Storm’s system. Boasting players such as Cam Smith and Cooper Cronk, regarded as the best players in their respective positions, shutting them down is no easy feat and the duo are still the most important players in the Storm side.
Their opponents, the Cronulla Sharks, have hit the jackpot. After some lean years in recent times due to off-field issues, the tide has turned. Blessed with a team and a club that have got things in check, they have a chance to break their premiership drought – currently the longest running drought in the NRL. In what will be their third grand final under a unified system, the Sharks boast top performers of their own with James Maloney and Paul Gallen two of their most crucial players.
Both sides will believe they can win the contest, as they enter the game tied at 1-apiece so far this season. Regarded as one of the most flamboyant sides in the NRL due to their attack, the Sharks will look to rattle the Storm with flawless execution. But against any Storm side, executing is always easier said than done, as they grind out victories with resolve in defence and consistent pressure in attack.
The Sharks advantage: Working in the Sharks favour is not only their attacking style but their ability to beat the first man and break tackles. Second overall when it comes to tackle breaks as a team and offloads, their flamboyance comes off the back of crafty second phase play. That sort of play could potentially wear the Storm down if executed properly and the Sharks will look to make the most of the opportunities that come their way.
The Storm advantage: One of toughest teams to beat due to the sheer nature of their grinding style of footy, the Storm are a side that suffocate teams in every facet and make very few errors themselves. As a result, their completion rate is often incredibly high and is the reason why they are able to force so many repeat sets on the back of deft kicking games from Cronk and Smith. Attack is crucial and with an astonishing completion rate of 81.7% for the season, the Storm make the most of their opportunities.
The NRL News View: Just because the Storm have the big-game experience when it comes to grand finals, the game will be no pushover. The Sharks have proven they can go toe-to-toe with the top teams this year and they will believe that they can break the drought. However, despite their confidence, stopping the Storm is a whole different kettle of fish. That is no easy feat and if the Sharks deviate from their own game plan and try to beat the Storm at their own game – that is, a grinding, hard-fought victory reliant on defence – a victory may favour the Storm. One of the more evenly matched grand finals in recent years for the neutrals, many are torn whilst others are not too concerned. For us, whilst the Sharks will put up a valiant fight, coming up against the Storm in a game that has so much riding on it will not be easy and thus we are going with the Storm. Only just, though, with no more than a converted try in the final result.