Posts Tagged ‘Grand Final’

Super League Grand Final Super Duper Grand Preview

October 10, 2009

R4_GF_Leeds_Saints

Previous Meetings: Saints have a 2-1 edge this season, with their cup win at Headingley the only time the away side won this game this year. They’ve been fairly even over the last few years, although it’s worth pointing out that Leeds have won their last two encounters at Old Trafford. 

Backline: Saints have the experience, Leeds have the talent, although the Rhinos aren’t exactly lacking in experience here and the Saints line-up isn’t too shabby. Leeds definitely seem to have a pace advantage. The wild-card in all of this is Kyle Eastmond, who is supposed to be a halfback but has spent most of this season roving in from the threequarter line, often to explosive effect. He is also the only person in either threequarter line never to play in the Grand Final, and along with Paul Wellens the only man not to score in the big game. Will he cower under the spotlight? I sort of doubt it.

Halves: Perhaps the most crucial battle in this match. Sean Long and Rob Burrow are both probably going to cancel each other out, although Long will try his hardest in his last ever Saints game. However, at Stand-Off we have a confrontation that in the last few years has extended beyond the Leeds-Saints rivalry: Leon Pryce or Danny McGuire? Since Pryce moved to Knowsley Rd the winner of this battle has usually been on the victorious side (the possible exception being their last regualr season game). Pryce has been mailing it in the last few months, whilst McGuire got a double in his last game. Pryce needs to pull his weight for Saints to win. 

Back Row: Both sides are pretty evenly mached at the back of the scrum. Leeds skew a bit younger, but Saints have Lee Gilmour (who might also end up in the centres) who remains one of the most underrated players in Super League. Leeds also have Ali Lauitiiti back, and he’s seemed to be Saints’ nemesis the last few times they have met. Look for Kevin Sinfield to carry out his usual playmaking role and for Jon Wilkin to occasionally do the same (although his kicking game was woeful last week). 

Front Row: This should be fun. In James Graham and Jamie Peacock, this confrontation features the two best English props not named Morley, and they’re ably backed up by the likes of Kylie Leuluai (consistent go-forward) and Maurie Fa’asavalu (who seemed back in form during the Wigan game). There’s also an underrated subplot to this game going on here – both James Roby and Matt Diskin will be wanting to show they have what it takes to be rake for the England FOur Nations campaign (Roby will almost definitely be in the squad, but this might be Diskin’s last chance to prove himself worthy). 

Coach: Brian McLennan has a pretty good track record in big finals, winning the Tri-Nations with New Zealand and only losing the second time in extra time. He’s also won at Old Trafford at his first attempt last year. He also seems to know when to mix it up and when to change the gameplan, which will be a boon tonight. This is Mick Potter’s first Grand Final as a coach, but he was Coach of the Year last season. People have criticized his management of Saints this year and this is his chance to prove them wrong.

In Conclusion… everything seems to be pointing towards a Rhinos victory, except for one thing: I’ve seen Saints live in three finals before (2006 & 2008 CC Final, 2006 GF) and they’ve won all three games, convincingly as well. Personally, I don’t think either of these sides will crush the other one, and I expect a good tough battle. If it rains, that plays into Leeds’ hands, although the forecast is currently saying it will just stay cloudy. Either Leeds are going to have the class to outmanouvre Saints (they’ve scored readily down the flanks in the last two Grand Finals) or Saints are going to send off Sean Long properly, which is something I keep coming back to. Never underestimate the poer of a good story…

NRL Grand Final: Melbourne Storm 23 – 16 Parramatta Eels

October 5, 2009

It looked like it was going to be a comfortable victory for the Melbourne Storm heading into the final fifteen minutes. They were leading 22-6 thanks to tries to Ryan Hoffman, Adam Blair, Greg Inglis and Billy Slater, and had even snuffed out Eric Grothe’s would-be comeback-igniter with Slater’s effort. Turns out the Eels just needed to find a second wind, which they did thanks to tries to Joel Reddy and an absolute barnstorming run from Fuifui Moimoi during which I’m pretty sure he would’ve knocked a hippo out of the way. In the end though Moimoi was adjudged to be the villain, accused by the referee of stealing the ball from Slater when all the evidence seemed to show his innocence. In the end, the penalty was enough to take the Storm deep into Parramatta territory, and Greg Inglis relieved his teammates by popping over a drop goal to take the Storm that crucial second score further from the Eels. 

If Parramatta had managed to succeed with their late surge, it would have been the ultimate example of an underserving team scraping a victory because apart from that ten-minute spell they were completely dominated by the Storm. The Eels’ run to the Grand Final had been built on dominating in the forwards and utilising the momentum in the 2nd phase. The one problem was it seemed quite obvious that they weren’t going to bully the Storm around like they had the Dragons, Titans and Bulldogs. In fact, the Storm played it almost note-perfect, swarming the Eeels and taking the big shots when they could (special kudos to Adam Blair who seemed to make it his personal mission to show  the Eels they wouldn’t have everything their own way). They also exploited their attacking opportunities perfectly, and they had a telepathic knowledge of where the support runners would be. I’m also amazed Cooper Cronk didn’t win the Churchill Medal, because he operated the Melbourne machine with pilot-like precision and was at the heart of their scoring (he set up three of four tries). Still, Billy Slater didn’t do too badly either so I won’t begrudge him his medal.

The Eels tried hard, but they just couldn’t break the Storm down apart from that magical spell. Nathan Hindmarsh made 64 tackles. 64! That’s a tackle every 75 seconds. That’s straight-up insane and a fantastic example of Hindmarsh’s extreme work ethic, but the fact he had to make so many tackles is indicative of the fact that the Eels weren’t on the front foot enough, which unfortunately for them is essential for their jazz-style of rugby to work. Fuifui Moimoi was also full of energy, but the Storm did a good job of containing him (if not stopping him). The fact that Jarryd Hayne didn’t really have all that much of a chance to show his talents was indicative of the Eels’ failings, and also indicative of a smart gameplan from the Storm who didn’t let him into the game. His face after his knock-on at the end of the game was that of a frustrated man unable to shape the game his way for the first time in a month. It also didn’t help that their final tackle options and kicking game could be generously called ‘godawful’. 

And so the Storm win their second Grand Final in four years, having been in the final game in all those seasons as well, which cements their reputation as the Rugby League dynasty over the past decade – not bad going considering the club is barely a decade old anyway. Greg Inglis hasn’t played a full season and not reached the Grand Final yet, and with their Toyota Cup side winning that competition (with an English full-back, Gareth Widdop, who might find himself getting international recognition soon) it looks like they’ll be up there for the next few years at least. As for Parramatta, it’s not a bad effort for Daniel Anderson’s first year in charge, and now they have the experience of going this far they should be the wiser for the experience. Of course, to go that one further they’ll have to go through the Storm, not to mention all the other teams in the NRL who will have looked to improve. It should be fun next year.