It seems the “good ol’ boy” culture that permeates rugby league seeps all the way through officialdom too. How else can you explain Parramatta’s Jarryd Hayne and Matthew Keating being available to play in the grand final after committing offences that would certainly have seen them rubbed out in the regular season?
But, you know, this is the big one! You gotta let ‘em play — it’s not as if they hurt anyone … much.
The Storm are playing in their fourth straight decider; a feat meant to be impossible in these days of equalisation, and an achievement almost everybody thought beyond them given the exodus of quality from the club in recent times.
And so we have a grand final that, not too long ago, would have been about as likely as Darrel Summer’s triumphant return to television – at least without a leggy bird to make him seem less ridiculous.
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Here is how the Hot Form Chart sees the last game of the season panning out:
|W-W-W-W-W||Last 5 games||W-L-W-W-W|
|WWWLL||Last 5 head to head||L-L-W-W-W|
|L-W-W-L-L||Last five at venue||W-L-D-W-W|
|22.5||Av. pts for||20.4|
|14.2||Av. pts against||18.5|
|$1.60||TAB Sportsbet odds||$2.35|
|1st try, Ryan Hoffman, $26||Value GF bet||Clive Churchill Medal, Fui Fui Moi Moi, $13|
The three keys for Melbourne:
- Billy Slater. In the head-to-head battle stakes, the one pitting the opposing fullbacks against each other is easily the most hyped and anticipated. It may well end up being the most influential too given Slater’s ability not only to create tries but to save them with his uncanny defensive acumen. Hard to see the Eels winning if Slater sets it alight on Sunday.
- Greg Inglis. In cruise mode against Brisbane, Inglis still racked up a hat-trick of tries to underline that, even when he is sharing it with Jarryd Hayne, the big centre is still the most potent attacking force on the field.
- Kicking options. The battle for territory will be a key as will denying each of the fullbacks time and space to move. Melbourne, through Smith, Cronk, Finch and Inglis, has the variety and potency in its kicking game to give it a decided edge in this area.
The three keys for Parramatta:
- Jarryd Hayne. A no-brainer. The man who took the Eels’ season from so-so to sensational may yet deliver a premiership. Melbourne will try and make life tough for him but Hayne’s talent is so enormous that it might not matter what the Storm do, he’ll just do it better.
- Daniel Mortimer. A Melbourne reject, Mortimer has personal reasons for wanting a victory on Sunday but revenge can sometimes be a distracting motivation. Better that he focuses on piloting his team around the field and cutting through any holes the Storm defence leave for him. After all, it is this that has put his team into a grand final.
- Right side defence. Joel Reddy and Eric Grothe are formidable with ball in hand but you can bet that when Melbourne has half a chance, it will be targeting their sometimes questionable defence. The problem becomes bigger when you consider that the man most likely to be doing it is Greg Inglis. If Reddy and Grothe fail, defeat will follow.
The prediction: Parramatta’s best chance seems to be edging Melbourne in the forwards and allowing its slick backs to do the rest. With the man so good they named his twice, Fui Fui Moi Moi, leading the way, that just may be how it turns out. But the Storm defence has looked tighter than an apple skin of late and with all their big names in something approaching top form, they will find too many avenues to the try line.
Melbourne by 7 points.