Despite the drama surrounding the build-up – there can be little argument that we have the two best teams left in the race for the ‘Holy Grail’ of rugby league this weekend.
The debate around Billy Slater’s remarkable inclusion in Melbourne’s team will continue and it gives them a tremendous advantage in their hopes to going back-to-back for the first time.
Personally, having played in three Grand Finals – I can sympathize with the panel which agreed to allow Billy to play his final game of his illustrious career – with the definition of a “shoulder charge” now under serious review.
With the hearing now concluded – the Storm can focus on their ‘machine like’ preparation as they field their best 17 for the most important game of the season.
Melbourne – before the season started and allowing for the defection of Cooper Cronk – had the best cohesion of any team and they have shown once again the value of recruiting younger players to allow them to develop in their system.
This successful approach – which has seen them feature in three consecutive grand finals – started when they recruited Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Greg Inglis from QLD as teenagers.
It is no secret that they have also had the necessary finance to retain their champion players for long periods – before losing GI to Souths and Cronk to the Roosters.
Their halves Cameron Munster (23) and Brodie Croft (21) are two perfect examples of young players that have been brought into the system and have been mentored by Smith, Slater, Cronk and their coach Craig Bellamy.
Ironically, the Roosters who were ranked 4th in team cohesion have developed their team over the last five years and have often been accused of attempting to “buy” a premiership for many years.
The recruitment of James Tedesco and Cronk on multi-million-dollar contracts – would seem to support this – but you also have to recognise the winning culture that has been created by their coach Trent Robinson who has also become their longest serving coach.
Plenty of speculation has been raised about the true value of their playing roster – but despite their highly paid recruits – you cannot deny the commitment that have shown in defence this year and to each other, including their best defensive performance against the Rabbits last weekend.
The courage of Cronk who put his body on the line has also provided a level of inspiration amongst his teammates as he battles to take the field against his old club.
Without Cronk – the Roosters will still field their best available roster – as Latrell Mitchell and Dylan Napa come back into the team.
I am reliably informed that Ryan Matterson will play in the halves – if Cronk is out and Mitch Aubusson (who has been named at half back) will take his place on the interchange bench.
The form line coming in is nearly impossible to separate and - if Cronk is fit – I firmly believe the Roosters are capable of winning the title.
However, if he is out – I have a sneaking feeling that his new “sparring partner” Cameron Smith will have a huge influence on his team and will be desperate to lead the Storm to victory as he has done so many times before.
With his partner in crime Billy Slater – also wanting to leave the game on a massive high – I can see the NRL trophy going south of the border once again.