NRL Grand Final Preview

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On Sunday night, the Roosters and Sea Eagles will clash, with the 2013 NRL premiership on the line. Rugby league writer Daniel Boss previews this year’s decider.

Thoughts from week 3 of the finals series

  • Manly’s win on Friday night showed that a team that is willing to play some football still beats a team that sticks to structure.
  • Kieran Foran was unbelievably good for Manly when his side were down 14-0. It was his line break which turned the momentum to Manly in the first half.
  • Souths started the game on fire, Manly started awfully but when Souths weren’t able to roll through the middle as they did in the first 20 minutes and after Manly were able to defend aganinst Souths’ set play down the left, then the Bunnies were shot.
  • Manly were even more battered and suffered another injury, this time a broken neck for Richie Fa’aoso.
  • The no try to George Burgess late in the game was as much of a try as the one given to Jorge Taufua last week. Cronulla supporters have every right to be up in arms about this. Then again, they did get a try off the 7th tackle in week 1 against the Cowboys.
  • When Souths were on the back foot during the second half, only Sam Burgess looked like he could turn the tide. The rest of the side went quiet and didn’t stand up when they needed to.
  • Newcastle got no rub of the green in the first half. The knock-on decision against Kevin Naiqama was clearly a strip and the forward pass that led to a try to make the game 12-2 was a huge blunder.
  • The Knights were starting to get on top in the game just when Buderus went off with an injury. After he went off, Newcastle lost all hope.
  • Despite the Roosters dominating the first half, the 8 point deficit was good for the Knights. It should have been more.
  • The Knights ran out of steam in the second half, as their tough finals games over the past fortnight caught up with them. They didn’t give up as they scored two late tries, despite the fact that the Roosters did clock off to avoid injury.
  • The Roosters were very clinical and powerful. This premiership is theirs to lose.

Grand Final: Sydney Roosters v Manly Sea Eagles

It’s the Grand Final that not a lot of people are excited about, yet I think it is a clash between the two best sides in the premiership. The three games that these two sides have played this season have been brutal, hard-fought games. Both sides are also willing to play some football and are not afraid to chance their hand. The clash in week 1 of the finals was the best game that I have seen all season and I am really looking forward to seeing both sides clash one more time with it all on the line. Last week, the Roosters disposed of the Knights quite handsomely, which was no mean feat as the Knights were great in the finals series. Michael Jennings was in particularly good touch last weekend. The Roosters were in great form and are deserved favourites in this game yet it remains to be seen if the Roosters have played their best game one week before the decider, as they did in 2010. Manly have gotten to the decider the hard way. Following the loss to the Roosters in the first week of the finals, the Sea Eagles have won two tough games against Cronulla and South Sydney. Time will tell as to the effects of the tough games over the past few weeks, but I don’t think it will affect Manly a great deal as they have a tonne of big game experience. Brett Stewart’s inclusion in the Manly team was a big factor in their win over South Sydney last weekend.

Team changes

The Roosters have named an unchanged line-up from the side that played in the preliminary final. Manly have lost Richard Fa’aoso to a broken neck and have added David Gower, James Hasson and Peta Hiku on a 6-man bench.

2013 matches

As mentioned above, these two sides have played three times in 2013, which have all been won by the Roosters. In Round 9 the Roosters won 16-4 at Brookvale Oval, in round 16 the Roosters won 18-12 at the SFS and in the first week of the finals, the Roosters won 4-0. As mentioned above, if this game is as good as the 4-0 game, then this could be one of the best Grand Finals of recent history.

Key stats/interesting facts

  • In the three games played between these two teams this season, the Sea Eagles have scored no points in the first half in all three games.
  • Despite the fact that both sides have shown a lot of flare in attack, this is a clash between the two best defensive sides in the NRL.
  • A total of 10 tries have been scored by both sides in the three games played between these two sides in 2013. Michael Jennings has scored 3 of those tries.
  • The last time two sides played 4 times in one season, was in 2005 as the Tigers and Cowboys met on four separate occasions. Of course, the most important of these was the 2005 Grand Final which the Tigers won 30-16. Sorry, I had to put that one in there. Go the Tigers!

Positional breakdown

Back three

Roosters: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Manly: Brett Stewart, Jorge Taufua, David Williams.

Both sides feature fullbacks that are probably past their best but have battled injuries during their careers to once again grace the grand stage. Both sides also feature wingers that are great finishers. Tuivasa-Sheck has a bright future and may possess the best footwork in the league. Taufua has developed into a good winger over the past two years, as he has reduced the mistakes in his game. As a result, he is a contender for a NSW wing position. For the back three, I give the edge to Manly as Stewart adds so many dimensions in attack. His try mid-way through the first half last week was the bit of brilliance that Manly needed to get back into that game.

Centres

Roosters: Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall. Manly: Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai.

Both sides possess two centres with representative football experience. The battle of Jennings and Lyon is one of the key matchups of this game. Jennings is currently in the best form of his career, while Lyon has been a great centre for over a decade. Matai is the enforcer of the Sea Eagles side but also has good footwork and general attacking ability to boot. Kenny-Dowall has had a solid season, but is not near his 2010 form where he was considered by some to be the best centre in the league. This season, he has been overshadowed by his fellow outside backs. For this reason, I give a slight edge in the centres to Manly.

Halves

Roosters: James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce. Manly: Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans.

The NSW halves combination has one more opportunity to prove that they belong on the big stage. This is the best opportunity for both Maloney and Pearce to hold onto their Origin jerseys by stepping up in a big game. As for Manly, they have the best halves combination in the competition. Cherry-Evans is one of the most dynamic attacking players in the league, while Foran is vastly underrated. His competitiveness and toughness is second to none. This combination is one of the best club halves combinations of the past two decades. A second premiership would help solidify this fact. I think Manly has a clear advantage here.

Props

Roosters: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sam Moa. Manly: Brenton Lawrence, Brent Kite.

Both sides have one great front row find for this season, in Moa and Lawrence respectively. Both have been unsung heroes for their sides. Kite has been a steadying influence for a long time at Manly and will be looking to add a third premiership ring to go along to his other two, as well as his Clive Churchill Medal. Yet, Kite isn’t the player he was in previous seasons. On the other hand, Waerea-Hargreaves is current at the peak of his powers. He is the leader of the Roosters forward pack and gives the other players around him confidence. His strong running game will put the Roosters on the front foot and as a result, I think the Roosters are stronger up front.

Hooker

Roosters: Jake Friend. Manly: Matt Ballin.

Unlike many sides that employ two hookers, both Friend and Ballin will play the majority of the game. Ballin has one of the highest work rates in the league and is ever consistent. Ballin provides good service and is durable as the last time he missed a game as a result of injury was in 2008. Friend is one of the most (if not the most) underrated players in the competition. As a former hooker, albeit at a much lower level, some of Friend’s runs out of dummy half last week left me in awe. In addition to a strong attacking game, Friend also possesses a high defensive work rate. As a result, I think the Roosters have the advantage at hooker.

Back row

Roosters: Aidan Guerra, Sonny Bill Williams, Frank-Paul Nuuausala. Manly: Anthony Watmough, Justin Horo, Glenn Stewart.

This is a salivating match-up. Both back rows possess a hard-hitting defender (Nuuausala, Watmough), ball-playing attacker (Williams, Stewart) and strong hole runner (Guerra, Horo). In my opinion, Watmough simply isn’t the same player he was at the start of the season and this is mainly attributed to his injury. Stewart hasn’t been in the best form, especially early last week. Horo has been a great pick up and is Foran’s go-to man in attack on Manly’s left. Guerra is an underrated back rower, who has particularly good footwork and speed. Nuuausala is probably the biggest lock in the league has become a more consistent player in recent seasons. However, the biggest difference maker in this game is Williams. His running and passing game is up there with the best backs in the NRL and as a result, I give the Roosters a slight edge in the back row. Rugby league fans, this may be our last chance to glimpse SBW playing our game for a while. Let’s enjoy it while we can.

Bench

Roosters: Daniel Mortimer, Mitchell Aubusson, Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa. Manly: David Gower, Jamie Buhrer, Tom Symonds, George Rose (not including 18th and 19th men).

For the Roosters, Liu and Napa provide impact off the bench at prop. Napa in particular, is capable of providing a strong run or big hit that could swing the momentum of the game. Aubusson can cover the backline but is best served as an attacking back rower. Mortimer can cover the halves but will likely be used to give Friend a spell. His support play is his biggest asset which could be important late in the first half. For Manly, Buhrer provides cover in the key positions but will most likely be used as a ball-playing back rower. Symonds will provide the most impact off the bench as an attacking back rower. He can also cover in the backline if required. Gower and Rose are the two props off the bench. Gower is a solid prop, while Rose provides a bit more impact; especially close to the try line. As the Roosters have more versatility and impact off the bench, I give them the advantage here.

Prediction

From the analysis above, I think that Manly has the better backs while the Roosters have the better forward pack and bench. You would think that I would predict the Roosters to win from this, right? Well, yes. This is the Roosters’ premiership to lose and I think that they will be too good. I think (and hope) that it will be similar to the three other games this season as neither side will back down. In my opinion, the Roosters can go to a level that Manly can’t. Whether this actually occurs remains to be seen as Manly do have more experience in big games and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sea Eagles claim their third premiership in 6 years.

On a more personal note, I am going for the Roosters in this game. For those who don’t know, I played rugby league with Daniel Mortimer in Orange for many years. Together, we lost quite a few Group 10 Junior Grand Finals and I hope that he can get over the line in this game. Also, Roosters five eight James Maloney is also from Orange. I can’t go against two players from the colour city.

Thank you

As this is the last regular article for me this season, I would like to thank all of you readers for spending some of your time reading my thoughts on the game. I hope to think that I’ve provided you with something this season. I will be writing up a couple of articles in the coming weeks, but I do have other priorities at this time. I am best man for a wedding in a few weeks and I’m off to Europe to watch the Rugby League World Cup final. I will write an article on the sporting experiences from this trip on my return to Australia. I’ll make sure to keep it all PG.

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