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).