2017 NRL Grand Final Preview – Melbourne Storm vs. North Queensland Cowboys

On Sunday night, the 2017 National Rugby League (NRL) Grand Final will take place from ANZ Stadium in Sydney between the Melbourne Storm, who are looking to win their third official premiership (fifth if you include the stripped premierships of 2007 and 2009) in their eighth grand final appearance, and the North Queensland Cowboys, who are looking to win their second premiership in three years, playing in their third grand final.

The Storm come into the grand final on the back of a nine-match winning streak, including defeating the Brisbane Broncos (30-0) last week in the preliminary final, and have been the best side all year, only losing four matches from 26, and being ranked the best team (at the end of the regular season) in both attack and defence, scoring 633 points at an average of 26.37 points per game, and conceding 336 points at an average of 14 points per game.

However, there is a lot on the line for the Melbourne Storm on Sunday night, with Cooper Cronk playing his last match for the club that he has loved so much, and possibly the last match of his NRL career, although he will be available for selection for the Rugby League World Cup starting in late October, and Billy Slater playing in his 299th and possibly last NRL match for the Storm, although like Cronk will be available for selection for the Rugby League World Cup.

However, in addition to Cronk and Slater, the key player for the Storm will be Cameron Smith, who won his second Dally M Medal on Wednesday night, 11 years after he won his first, and the way he can control a game exceptionally well, with both his kicking and running game, as well as his leadership will be key to the Storm’s chances.

The Cowboys come into the grand final after defeating the Sydney Roosters (29-16) last week in the preliminary final, and it has been quite a remarkable performance considering Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott have been out for the vast majority of the year, and won’t be playing in the grand final, only palying nine matches for the Cowboys between them in 2017.

At the end of the regular season, the Cowboys are the fifth-best team defensively, conceding 443 points at an average of 18.45 points per game, but were only the 10th-ranked attacking team in the NRL, scoring 467 points at an average of 19.45 points per game, and will be looking to become the lowest-ranked team (eighth) to win the premiership.

In addition to this, the North Queensland Cowboys will look to become the first team since the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in 1980 to win the premiership after having a points differential at the end of the regular season of less than +100. Nine teams with a points differential of less than +100 at the end of a regular season have made a grand final since then, but have all failed to win the trophy.

The Cowboys are also aiming to become the first team since the Western Suburbs Magpies in 1952 to defeat a team in a grand final who had a points differential at the end of the regular season of +100 or more after having a points differential at the end of the regular season of less than +100.

The key to the Cowboys making the grand final has been the form of Michael Morgan, who has really elevated himself to a whole new level in the absence of Thurston, and has proven himself to be a big-match player, as well as Jason Taumalolo, who has averaged 209.04 running metres per match in 2017, and has really lifted to another level in the absence of Scott.

Looking at the recent records between the two teams, the Storm have won six of their last seven matches against the Cowboys, including their last five, but in finals matches, the Cowboys have won two of their three matches against the Storm, although the two teams have split their last two finals encounters.

Overall, the Storm have won 25 of their 35 matches against the Cowboys, with the Cowboys winning 10, but the 2017 NRL Grand Final will be the first meeting between the two teams at ANZ Stadium.

So who will win?

Most of the historical statistics all point to the Melbourne Storm, and all the statistics in 2017 point towards the Storm. If the North Queensland Cowboys were to win the grand final, it would rank as arguably the greatest upset in a grand final in Australian rugby league history, and as much as I would love to see this happen, a premiership achieved without Thurston and Scott for the majority of the season, including in the grand final, in my opinion would be too good to be true!

I think Cronk, and potentially Slater, will get the winning farewell that they deserve so much!

It will be a tight game, and the Cowboys won’t give up until the very end, but I sense the Storm will edge away right at the end to grab their first premiership since 2012.

Melbourne Storm to win by eight points (16-8).

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A look at Mornington and Royal Randwick

We are edging ever closer to the big races of the spring, and with that, we are seeing some of the best equine machines take to the track, and on Saturday, this will be no exception.

At Mornington, they are having their AFL Grand Final race day, with a listed race the headline act, but most of the great racing action will be happening at Royal Randwick, and what about some of the fields!

Three Group One races, the Flight Stakes featuring Alizee and Champagne Cuddles, the Epsom Handicap featuring Happy Clapper, Foxplay, Tom Melbourne, and Comin’ Through, and The Metropolitan featuring a number of horses capable of being successful well into the spring.

In addition to this, we have the Group Two Santos Coffee Premiere Stakes, featuring Chautauqua, English, and Fell Swoop, who are all being aimed to The Everest on the 14th of October.

So, here are my tips for the races at Mornington (Races 1-8), and Royal Randwick (Races 1-9). (Please note that my tips will be updated in the lead up to the racing action pending changes to the fields)

MORNINGTON TIPS (Fields)

Race 1: 12:35pm 1500m Eliza Dry Cleaners Handicap. Handicap. Three-Years-Old and Upwards, Colts, Geldings and Entires. BenchMark 70. Apprentices can claim. Track: Main. Track type: Turf. Field limit: 14.

1st 3. Koolama Bay (1)

2nd 4. Beach Life (7)

3rd 1. Emoji (11)

4th 7. Big Phil (5)

Race 2: 1:10pm 2025m Jack Dow Memorial Plate. Handicap. No age restriction, No sex restriction. BenchMark 78. Apprentices can claim. Track: Main. Track type: Turf. Field limit: 15.

1st 4. Sin To Win (8)

2nd 7. Ubin Thunderstruck (2)

3rd 5. The Thug (9)

4th 2. Andrea Mantegna (5)

Race 3: 1:45pm 1000m Highview Accounting Mornington Handicap. Handicap. Three-Years-Old, No sex restriction. BenchMark 70. Apprentices can claim. Track: Main. Track type: Turf. Field limit: 12.

1st 1. Artstrum (3)

2nd 5. Bed Talk (6)

3rd 2. Je Suis Tycoon (1)

4th 8. Ultra Smart (5)

Race 4: 2:20pm 1000m thebigscreencompany.com.au Handicap. Handicap. No age restriction, No sex restriction. BenchMark 70. Apprentices can claim. Track: Main. Track type: Turf. Field limit: 12.

1st 5. Just Hifalutin (3)

2nd 9. Toorak Cowboy (7)

3rd 2. Bob of the Head (6)

4th 3. Divine Dice (11)

Race 5: 3:00pm 1200m Dandino @ Bombora Downs. Handicap. Three-Years-Old and Upwards, Colts, Geldings and Entires. BenchMark 70. Apprentices can claim. Track: Main. Track type: Turf. Field limit: 15.

1st 2. Ajani (1)

2nd 9. Toy Boy (6)

3rd 4. Ballinaclash (4)

4th 1. Stormcraft (5)

Race 6: 3:40pm 2430m R.M. Ansett Classic. Handicap. Listed. No age restriction, No sex restriction. No class restriction. Apprentices cannot claim. Track: Main. Track type: Turf. Field limit: 12.

1st 8. King Way (4)

2nd 4. Charlevoix (1)

3rd 3. Swacadelic (2)

4th 5. Settler’s Stone (3)

Race 7: 4:20pm 1500m Mornington Auto Group Handicap. Handicap. Three-Years-Old and Upwards, Fillies and Mares. BenchMark 70. Apprentices can claim. Track: Main. Track type: Turf. Field limit: 14.

1st 6. Tiffany’s Lass (8)

2nd 2. Quilate (1)

3rd 4. Wasabi (4)

4th 5. Lady Skills (12)

Race 8: 5:05pm 1200m Total Animal Supplies Handicap. Handicap. Three-Years-Old and Upwards, Fillies and Mares. BenchMark 70. Apprentices can claim. Track: Main. Track type: Turf. Field limit: 15.

1st 6. Florida Keys (3)

2nd 11. Street Impact (14)

3rd 5. She’s Positive (8)

4th 6. Florida Keys (3)

 

ROYAL RANDWICK TIPS (Fields)

Race 1 – 12:20PM ARROWFIELD BREEDERS’ PLATE (1000 METRES). LISTED
Set Weights, Two-Years-Old, Colts and Geldings, Apprentices cannot claim. Track Type: Turf. Field Limit: 16.

1st 3. Hiemal (1)

2nd 5. Performer (2)

3rd 4. Osorno (8)

4th 1. Bondi (3)

Race 2 – 12:55PM KEENELAND GIMCRACK STAKES (1000 METRES). LISTED
Set Weights, Two-Years-Old, Fillies, Apprentices cannot claim. Track Type: Turf. Field Limit: 16.

1st 2. Bold Arial (4)

2nd 6. Witherspoon (16)

3rd 5. Satin Slipper (6)

4th 7. Zerchois (7)

Race 3 – 1:30PM SCHWEPPES DULCIFY QUALITY (1600 METRES). LISTED
Quality, Minimum Weight 53kg, Three-Years-Old, Apprentices cannot claim. Track Type: Turf. Field Limit: 20.

1st 6. Langley (11)

2nd 9. Pride Of Darci (10)

3rd 2. Sambro (6)

4th 7. Ataraxia (2)

Race 4 – 2:05PM ILVE APPLIANCES HILL STAKES (1800 METRES). GROUP 2
Standard Weight for Age, Three-Years-Old and Upwards, Apprentices cannot claim. Track Type: Turf. Field Limit: 14.

1st 10. Perfect Rhyme (9)

2nd 6. Spectroscope (2)

3rd 7. Classic Uniform (5)

4th 4. Mackintosh (7)

Race 5 – 2:40PM FLIGHT STAKES (1600 METRES). GROUP 1
Set Weights, Three-Years-Old, Fillies, Apprentices cannot claim. Track Type: Turf. Field Limit: 20.

1st 1. Champagne Cuddles (11)

2nd 4. Cellargirl (4)

3rd 2. Alizee (10)

4th 3. One More Honey (2)

Race 6 – 3:20PM SANTOS COFFEE PREMIERE STAKES (1200 METRES). GROUP 2
Standard Weight for Age, Three-Years-Old and Upwards, Apprentices cannot claim. Track Type: Turf. Field Limit: 18.

1st 2. Clearly Innocent (5)

2nd 10. In Her Time (1)

3rd 9. English (9)

4th 7. Ball Of Muscle (8)

Race 7 – 4:00PM TAB EPSOM HANDICAP (1600 METRES). GROUP 1
Handicap, Minimum Weight 48.5kg, Three-Years-Old and Upwards, Weight Raised 0.5kg, Apprentices cannot claim. Track Type: Turf. Field Limit: 20.

1st 2. Foxplay (14)

2nd 11. Comin’ Through (12)

3rd 1. Happy Clapper (4)

4th 3. Sound Proposition (10)

Race 8 – 4:45PM THE METROPOLITAN (2400 METRES). GROUP 1
Handicap, Minimum Weight 50kg, Three-Years-Old and Upwards, Apprentices cannot claim. Track Type: Turf. Field Limit: 18.

1st 1. Libran (3)

2nd 6. Antonio Giuseppe (4)

3rd 9. Life Less Ordinary (11)

4th 8. Broadside (9)

Race 9 – 5:25PM SNITZEL SPRINT (1200 METRES). BenchMark 90, Handicap, Minimum Weight 53kg, Three-Years-Old and Upwards, Apprentices can claim. Track Type: Turf. Field Limit: 18.

1st 4. Tango Rain (3)

2nd 11. Improvement (9)

3rd 8. Spright (1)

4th 12. Dagny (2)

2017 AFL Grand Final Preview – Adelaide Crows vs. Richmond Tigers

On Saturday afternoon, the 2017 Australian Football League (AFL) Grand Final will take place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) between the Adelaide Crows, who are looking to win their third premiership, and their first since 1998, and the Richmond Tigers, who are into their first grand final since 1982, and will be looking to win their first premiership since 1980.

The Crows come into the grand final off the back of two finals wins against the GWS Giants in the first week of the finals, and against the Geelong Cats last week in the preliminary final, winning by 36 points and 61 points respectively in each of those two matches. They are the number one scoring team in the AFL (after the regular season), averaging 109.77 points per match, and the fourth-best defensive team (after the regular season), in terms of scoring, conceding on average 80.72 points per match in 2017.

Given the Crows great offensive scoring stats, they are unsurprisingly the number one goal scoring team in the AFL, averaging 16.1 goals per match, but they are fifth for disposals (394.2 per match), first for contested possessions (155.4 per match), third for contested marks (12.5 per match), first for marks Inside 50 (14.7 per match), third for hit-outs (45 per match), second for clearances (39.6 per match), equal-second for tackles (71.9 per match), fourth for one percenters (50.5 per match), and second for Inside 50s (57.9 per match).

The Tigers come into their first grand final in 35 years off the back of four-straight wins, including two finals wins against the Geelong Cats in week one of the finals by 51 points, and against the GWS Giants in last week’s preliminary final by 36 points. They are only the eighth-best scoring team in the AFL (after the regular season), averaging 90.54 points per match, but are the third-best defensive team in terms of scoring (after the regular season), conceding on average 76.54 points per match.

The Tigers are 15th for disposals (365.8 per match), ninth for contested possessions (143.9 per match), equal-11th for contested marks (10.8 per match), second for marks Inside 50 (14 per match), last for hit-outs (31.9 per match), 14th for clearances (35.6 per match), equal-sixth for tackles (69.8 per match), equal-sixth for one percenters (47.5 per match), third for Inside 50s (55.8 per match), and ninth in terms of goal scoring (13.1 per match).

And while the Crows look more dominant compared to the Tigers as far as the statistics are concerned, the Tigers do have the 2017 Brownlow Medallist in their team in Dustin Martin.

Martin has had a career-best season in 2017, being the best on ground on 11 occasions (as voted by the field umpires), which is the most in history, and tallied 36 votes, which is a record amount of votes for a Brownlow Medallist in a year, and was the only Richmond players to poll into double figures.

Martin is equal-ninth in average disposals (29.8 per match), seventh in average contested possessions (14.2 per match), eighth in average clearances (6.5 per match), and first in average Inside 50s (6.1 per match).

However, the Crows have been more of a team-first orientated club in 2017, with four players polling into double figures in the 2017 Brownlow Medal count, including Sam Jacobs (10), Rory Atkins (10), Matt Crouch (11), and Rory Sloane (20).

Sloane has had a superb year for Adelaide, being 13th in average contested possessions (13.4 per match), equal-10th in average clearances (6.4 per match), equal-fourth for average tackles (7.8 per match), and equal-13th for average Inside 50s (4.5 per match).

The Crows and the Tigers have only played against each other once in 2017, which was at the Adelaide Oval back in Round Six, when the Crows smashed the Tigers by 76 points, but as far as the records of both teams at the MCG in 2017, it looks quite promising for both teams.

Richmond have won 11 of their 13 matches at the MCG in 2017, only losing to the Fremantle Dockers (Round 8), and the Sydney Swans (Round 13), while Adelaide are undefeated in 2017 in their only three matches at the MCG, winning against Hawthorn (Round 2), and Carlton (Round 15), before drawing with Collingwood (Round 19), with Mitch McGovern (who will miss the grand final) kicking a goal after the siren to level the scores for the Crows.

However, with many of the spectators on Saturday likely to be Richmond supporters, it moves the match closer to a 50/50 contest, but with the grand final being a neutral occasion, it moves the odds more in favour with the better team, and that is the Crows.

I think it will be tight contest for at least three-and-a-half quarters, but I think the Adelaide Crows will pull away late to win by 18 points on the last Saturday in September to return to the holy grail of Australian rules football for the first time since 1998.

Sydney Roosters vs. North Queensland Cowboys (TV style) – My call (NRL Preliminary Final – Highlights)

Here are some of the highlights from the second Preliminary Final in the 2017 National Rugby League finals series between the Sydney Roosters and the North Queensland Cowboys held at Allianz Stadium, where the Cowboys marched one step closer to a fairytale premiership. Enjoy!

Melbourne Storm vs. Brisbane Broncos (TV style) – My call (NRL Preliminary Final – Highlights)

Here are some of the highlights from the first Preliminary Final of the 2017 National Rugby League (NRL) Finals Series between the Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos held at AAMI Park, where the Storm marched into their second-straight grand final. Enjoy!

2017 Malaysian Grand Prix – Preview

This weekend, the 15th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place at the Sepang International Circuit, which is about 60 kilometres south of Kuala Lumpur, for what will be, at least for the foreseeable future, the final Malaysian Grand Prix.

The Sepang International Circuit was the second circuit ever designed by legendary circuit designer Hermann Tilke, and since 1999, it has been a circuit that has seen some crazy races in Formula One, many great triumphs, and even some heartbreak.

Someone who has experienced both emotions in Malaysia has been Lewis Hamilton, who won the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2014, but was forced to retire while leading comfortably in 2016, ultimately costing him the world championship.

Hamilton (263 points) leads the world drivers’ championship for Mercedes by 28 points over Sebastian Vettel (235 points) after the former’s victory in Singapore, which happened after the latter’s collision in wet conditions with both Max Verstappen, and his Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen, which caused all three of them to retire, which was only the fourth time in Formula One history that the entire front row (Vettel and Verstappen) was wiped out on the opening lap of a grand prix.

It was a gift that Hamilton had no hesitation in grabbing to take complete control of the championship as he seeks to equal Vettel with four world championships.

Vettel and Ferrari you sense will have to find something extra special if they want to topple Hamilton and Mercedes in the championship battle in the final six races of 2017, at circuits that on balance suit the Mercedes better.

Third in the world championship is Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas (212 points), who finished third at the Singapore Grand Prix to help Mercedes gain crucial points over Ferrari, who scored zero points in Singapore, in the Constructors’ World Championship.

Fourth in the championship is Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo (162 points) after what you could say was a disappointing second-place finish in Singapore, after suffering non-terminal gearbox issues, preventing him from driving as fast as he could have, potentially costing him victory.

Räikkönen is fifth in the championship on 138 points after his retirement in Singapore, and has really got to lift his game if he wants to see his teammate, Vettel, win his fifth world championship. Räikkönen needs to steal points away from Hamilton, and when Vettel wins during the final six races of the season, he must finish second. So far, he has shown little signs recently that he is capable of stealing big points away from Hamilton, and you would think that Vettel’s attitude towards his team about his teammate will change quickly if Räikkönen can’t step up to the plate for the remainder of 2017, starting at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Verstappen (68 points) is sixth the world championship for Red Bull, and his bad luck continued at the Singapore Grand Prix, suffering his seventh retirement from 14 races in 2017 after being taken out by the two Ferrari drivers. Verstappen cannot take a trick, and while most of the retirements haven’t been his fault, somewhere along the line, you would have to look at his approach to racing, and look at ways to tinker with it slightly to ensure he doesn’t get involved in so many incidents like we saw in Singapore off the start-line.

Equal on points with Verstappen in the championship is Sergio Pérez (68 points) after finishing fifth in Singapore, and is followed by his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon (56 points), who is 12 points behind the Mexican in the championship.

Carlos Sainz Jr. is ninth in the world championship in his Toro Rosso on 48 points after signing for Renault for 2018, while his teammate for next year, Nico Hülkenberg, is 10th in the championship on 34 points in his Renault, leading a four-way battle for 10th in the drivers’ championship between Felipe Massa (31 points), Lance Stroll (28 points), and Romain Grosjean (26 points).

In the Constructors’ World Championship, Mercedes (475 points) lead by 102 points over Ferrari (373 points). Red Bull (230 points) are third in the constructors’ championship, comfortably ahead of Force India (124 points), who are comfortably ahead of a four-way battle for fifth between Williams (59 points), Toro Rosso (52 points), Renault (42 points), and Haas (37 points), while McLaren (17 points) are starting pull away from Sauber (five points) in the battle for ninth in the constructors’ championship.

So, who will win the final-ever Malaysian Grand Prix?

I think it could be an epic battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, similar to the battle they had in Spain earlier this year, and if that is the case, it may be too close to call, but Vettel desperately needs to win, and if he doesn’t, and Hamilton wins, it could well be game over in terms of his championship hopes!

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 11am and 3pm local time (1pm and 5pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 2pm and 5pm local time (4pm and 7pm AEST).

The 56 lap race is on Sunday from 3pm local time (6pm AEDT).

Sydney Roosters vs. North Queensland Cowboys (TV style) – My call (NRL Finals – Week Three – Preliminary Final)

Earlier tonight, I called the second preliminary final of the 2017 National Rugby League (NRL) Finals Series between the Sydney Roosters and the North Queensland Cowboys, which was held at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.

The Roosters came into this preliminary final after having a week off after defeating the Brisbane Broncos (24-22) in Week One of the finals, while the Cowboys came into this grand final qualifier after defeating the Parramatta Eels (24-16) last week, and the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks (15-14) the week before that.

In recent matches between the two teams, the Roosters had won five of their last seven against the Cowboys, and had won both of their finals matches against the Cowboys.

So, who would face the Melbourne Storm in the 2017 NRL Grand Final? Would it be the Roosters, or would it be the Cowboys?

Find out right here, and enjoy my call!