It’s got all the ingredients of a blockbuster directed by Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock for suspense or if it turns ugly, Quentin Tarantino. Sunday’s NRL Grand Final between Trent Robinson’s Sydney Roosters and Ricky Stuart’s Canberra Raiders shapes as an epic battle between two sides who play vastly different styles which should make for an unpredictable contest. The Roosters go into the game as deserved $1.42 favourites hoping to become the first club since the mighty Brisbane Broncos to go back-to-back since 1992-93. The Raiders, chasing their first grand final win since 1994, to me are way over the odds at $3.30 given their form in the finals and the fact that they can get hot at any time with their off-loading style. They are extremely appealing with 7.5 start in a Grand Final, that’s for sure.
Sunday, October 6, 2019
Sydney Roosters vs Canberra Raiders
Venue: ANZ Stadium | Start: 7:30pm (AEST)
The Roosters have a combined 30 grand final of experience compared to Canberra’s one, so they have a massive edge in that department although the Raider’s pack have all played representative football so they should not suffer from stage fright. Both sides have experienced setbacks through the week and both coaches have to weigh-up a few selection gambles. Last year, Robinson rolled the dice and played halfback Cooper Cronk with a busted shoulder and got away with it. This year Robinson has to make another crucial call on whether to stick with youngster Sam Verrils as his hooker or rush vice-captain Jake Friend back even though he has not played since July after suffering an infection following surgery to insert a plate into his broken arm. Verrils has been great in Friend’s absence and it would be massive for him to run out in the GF in only his 15th NRL game. But Friend is a quality dummy half who has played on the big. The big risk with him is his lack of match fitness and perhaps his timing being out given he will touch the ball more than any other Rooster’s player. Robinson’s gun playmaker Luke Keary (ankle) is also under and injury cloud and missed training this week. Canberra though have their own fitness issues with big centre Joey Leilua (cork calf) in some doubt and their chief playmakers Jack Wighton (shoulder) and Josh Hodgson (virus) disrupting preparations this week by missing training. All three though are expected to play.
Hodgson has to play. He is the puppeteer, he pulls all the strings and makes the crucial plays. Yes, on what we have seen this year, the Roosters, who have won both minor season games, look the winner, but not by many points. Let’s not underestimate the Green Machine and how they have built towards Sunday’s showdown. They have the game to score points, even against the Rooster’s defensive structure, because they are so unpredictable and can come at you from anywhere on the park. Their English connection of Hodgson, John Bateman and Elliott Whitehead have given them so much attacking variety while prop Josh Papali has taken his game to a new level in recent months. His battle with the returning Jared Waera-Hargreaves will be explosive, especially after Stuart named Papali as the best prop in the game last week. That comment alone is certain to fire up Waera-Hargreaves who will make a point of answering Stuart’s claim with his power game through the middle on Sunday. Waera-Hargreaves though will need to keep his aggression controlled as the Raiders will no doubt try and niggle and bait him along with a few other players with short fuses, including Latrell Mitchell who can sometimes go over the top. Both Hodgson and Bateman can get under their opposition’s skin and they will do be doing their best to get a reaction from some of the Rooster’s players in the hope of a penalty or a possible sin bin. There are many contests in this game like the battle of the fullbacks, James Tedesco who is up against youngster Charnce Nicoll Klokstad, one of the discoveries of the season. Tedesco was crowned the game’s best player at the Dally M awards during the week on the back of some amazing stats. Apart from his 17 tries, he has 13 try assists beside his name. He has 23 line breaks, the best in the NRL and 161 tackle breaks, also the best and has an average of 205-run metres a game. Stunning stats.
Every time he touches the ball on Sunday the crowd will rise to their feet. And what about the “old man” Cooper Cronk, lining up in his third straight grand final and the ninth of 15 seasons, truly a remarkable feat which highlights his class. Only two players, Norm Provan (St George 1956-65) and Brian “Poppa” Clay (Newtown (1954-55 and St George 1957-61, 1964-66) have played in more grand finals than Cronk in 110 years.
Cronk’s game last weekend against his old club Melbourne Storm was magnificent and he controlled much of the 80 minutes. Along with Keary, they ignite the Roosters either through the ruck with Tedesco or on the edges with Mitchell and the likes of Victor Radley and Joseph Manu. Canberra’s defence will need to spot-on, especially down Leilua’s side, which at times can be vulnerable. Canberra’s halves, Aidan Sezer and Wighton, will need to be on their game, especially Sezer who was well below his best last weekend with some defensive errors and an average kicking game. The Roosters will target Sezer at every opportunity and he needs to be “on” from the first minute of action until the last. If the Raiders can unsettle the Roosters early with some niggle and ball-stealing, they have 28 steals already this season — with Hodgson the chief thief with 13 – they may be able to put the Roosters off their game.
They will also have to take a few risks with their off-loading to put even more pressure on the Roosters. So much will depend on completions and errors, field position and keeping discipline under control as tensions build through the battle. No doubt there will be a few special plays because there are so many outstanding players in action.
If the Roosters come out with all guns blazing as they can do, and put on a few quick tries on the board then the grand final may be lost because with Cronk at the helm they will control the game off a handy lead. All in all it shapes as an absorbing battle with lots of twists and turns and plenty of big collisions and action to entertain the expected sell-out crowd. I really want to tip the Raiders because it’s been 25 years between premierships and Stuart has done such a wonderful job in putting this side together and getting them to the GF.But the Roosters appear to have a little too much firepower in key positions with Tedesco and Mitchell both potential match-winners in a tight one.