NRL Grand Final Preview – It’s Manly’s to Lose

I for one am pleased that the Roosters and Sea Eagles will line up in this year’s finale, despite the fact that I support neither side. They possess the strongest playing rosters in the NRL, the best defensive units and most formidable attacking weapons. Both sides are not reliant on one or two players and can play adaptable football depending on the style of play. They can play physically even when they are throwing caution to the wind. Overall, they are the two best sides in the competition.

Last weekend, both sides played “September football”. They demonstrated the footballing qualities you need to win finals footy: mental and physical toughness, composure and execution under pressure.

For those of you who missed last weekend, both games were remarkably different.

South Sydney started like a house on fire and before Manly could blink it was 14 nil after 10 minutes. Instead of panicking and immediately trying to play catch up football, Manly slowly ground their way back into the contest, possession began to even itself out and eventually they wore out a South Sydney outfit which ran out of legs. Manly played to its strength (its right attacking edge) and it paid massive dividends in the second half against an inexperienced South Sydney defensive outfit on that side of the field. When Manly hit the front, they were never going to be beaten. Manly showed the mental toughness and composure to come back from a 14 point deficit and when they got quality football in their attacking 20, they executed their plays to a tee. Ignoring the first 10 minutes, it was a mightily impressive performance.

On the other hand, the Roosters led from start to finish and the result was never in doubt. It was an 80 minute performance which had everything…brutal defence, scintillating attacking, all in all while doing the one-percenters which coaches love to take note of – strong kick chase, dominant tackles and pressure on the opposition kickers. Newcastle never stood a chance. They couldn’t get into the contest and as the match went on they looked physically jaded. It was clear they had played their grand final against the Storm a week earlier. When the Roosters had the Knights on the ropes, they put them to the sword.

Turning to this weekend, I think we will witness one of the best and closest grand finals in recent memory. We will not see a repeat of the 4 nil scoreline 3 weeks ago. Sure defence will play a big part, but I expect the attacking prowess of both sides to be far more prevalent.

The Roosters deserve to be the favourites on the back of last weekend and the fact that they are the minor premiers. They are the fresher of the two sides and have a very slight edge in the forward pack in my opinion. However, I think they are false favourites, a statement which the latte sippers won’t agree with.

I believe the “freshness” argument can be thrown out the window for a grand final. Adrenalin kicks in and it’s rare that grand finals are won on the back of fatigue from opponents.

Almost all grand finals are determined by which team’s “spine” outperforms the other. A rugby league side’s spine is its 1, 6, 7 and 9 – its fullback, five-eighth, halfback and hooker. Composure and execution under pressure comes predominantly from these players.

The Roosters spine is comprised of the ageless Anthony Minichello, the barbequer himself in James Maloney, Junior Pearce and Jake Friend. Manly’s spine comprises the snake Brett Stewart, Kieran Foran, double barrel Daly and Matt Ballin.

I think Manly’s spine is slightly stronger and that they have a definite advantage in the No 1 and No 7 jerseys.

Daly Cherry-Evans is the heir apparent to Cooper Cronk in the Australian side and would be a walk up starter for NSW if he was born south of the border. Sure, Junior Pearce has been in good form over the past few weeks but he is yet to convince me that he is an elite footballer able to perform on league’s biggest stage. Sunday night is his chance to prove me wrong I suppose.

The inclusion of Brett Stewart in the No 1 jersey for Manly is huge. His influence on the side last week was enormous. He is a dangerous cog on Manly’s right attacking edge and his team mates appear to grow an extra leg of confidence when he plays. Stewart’s counterpart for the Roosters has been a great player but, being honest, his best footballing days are a long way behind him.

The one person I haven’t mentioned is SBW – the obvious X factor in the game who could well tip the result the Roosters way through a moment of individual brilliance. Manly did a good job containing and negating SBW’s strengths 3 weeks ago and I think they can do so again this weekend

All in all, I am leaning towards a Manly victory.

I expect the game to be that close that it could be a golden point extra time victory. With that in mind, take the $2.25 on offer and if you’re feeling confident, take Daly Cherry-Evans or Jamie Lyon for the Clive Churchill medal.

It’s tragic that the NRL season is coming to an end but at least us league fanatics have the World Cup to look forward to. More to follow on the international front shortly.

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