Last season, the Sydney Roosters failed to inspire confidence and slipped out of NRL playoff contention very quickly but Trent Robinson’s side have found their feet in recent months. In the 2016 campaign, Sydney handed debuts to 11 first team players and their complete lack of experience showed on more than one occasion.
With a year’s worth of knowledge now under their belts, the Roosters’ young stars are playing some scintillating attacking footy and plenty of fans will be backing the 13-time Premiership champions to lift the title at the end of the season.
Michael Gordon, arguably Sydney’s most under-rated player, still leads the way at the top of the points scoring charts, and the 33-year-old has found his best form since joining the Roosters last summer. Given the opportunity, Gordon could be crucial to guiding Sydney all the way to the NRL Grand Final.
His reliability and consistency as a kicker stands him tall above his peers but he has a unique ability to join in and start attacking sets from receiving the ball deep in his own half – and that is what makes him such a dangerous player. If Gordon plays well, there’s a good chance Sydney do too.
But Gordon or no Gordon, Sydney will still have trouble stopping the Melbourne Storm. After finishing at the summit of the NRL regular season ladder, most supporters (as well as The Obstruction Rule) expected Melbourne to go on and win the Grand Final but it all came unstuck against an exceptional Cronulla Sharks outfit.
On the day, the Sharks deserved the victory, but Craig Bellamy’s men know that they are the best team in the business. At time of writing, the Storm are two points clear of Sydney at the top of the table having won 12 of their 15 league games so far this year – an impressive record considering just how competitive the NRL is.
Statistically, Melbourne are ahead of every other team in the league – both in attack and defence. On offense, we have the Storm ranked 1st, and they’ve racked up more points (343) than anybody else in the NRL; while on the other side of the ball, only the Sharks (229) have conceded fewer points than Melbourne’s top ranked defense (237) this season.
Based on those statistics alone, Bellamy will be confident that his well-balanced side can come out on top at the end of the campaign. Just like last year, it may take a world class performance from a rival in a one-off encounter to end the Storm’s chances of glory on Australian rugby league’s grandest stage.
If you compare Sydney and Melbourne, there isn’t much between the two sides. Both are capable of running in a hatful of tries (as they each did in their Round 16 encounter) but, by the same token, they can each adopt a defensive approach when necessary. One statistic in particular does stand out though; Melbourne’s record away from home.
With seven wins from eight road games, the Storm are perfectly set up for finals football, and their ability to emerge victorious under pressure and in unfamiliar surroundings should set them apart from their closest competitors (after all, the Grand Final is played in Sydney). In terms of top flight knowledge, Bellamy has some very experienced professionals at his disposal.
So far, the only away fixture that Melbourne have lost was by two points to the Gold Coast Titans back in May. On that day, the Storm conceded a season-high 38 points and that may be the only way that Melbourne fall short (and even in defeat, they ran in 36 points themselves).
To beat the Storm, you have to outscore the Storm – they are very difficult to beat on a player by player basis and simply going for the jugular might be the best approach. After all, trying to beat Bellamy’s men in a low-scoring affair might prove a task too far for any team not named “Cronulla Sharks”.
With the likes of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, and club captain Cameron Smith, Melbourne are blessed with quality in key areas of the field and those three men could make the difference as the Storm push for another title (though if anything were happen to the Big 3, Cameron Munster, Brodie Croft and Slade Griffin are no slouches themselves).
In years gone by, Melbourne have struggled to make the most of their talented stars but there is an aura of destiny surrounding AAMI Park this season and Bellamy will be confident of guiding his side to the Grand Final. And on any given day, you’d have to fancy this Storm unit to get the job done.
Cronk has already announced that he will leave Melbourne at the end of the campaign and, with Slater and Smith both 34 years old, time is running out for the Storm’s main men to win another accolade. These three superstars of Australian rugby league have been there and done it all, winning international competitions for The Kangaroos whilst guiding Melbourne to the playoffs on a regular basis.
It’s time for the younger members of the Storm squad to step up and pay their heroes back; only a Grand Final success will do this season – and Bellamy knows it. At the time of writing, Melbourne are around 8/1 to win the NRL Grand Final according to Oddschecker’s early betting markets and plenty of punters will be backing the Storm to do just that.
Yes, Cronulla got the better of Bellamy’s men last year but that defeat could spur Melbourne on ahead of the business end of the campaign (and it’s worth noting that the Storm knocked the Sharks off in Round 14 with Cooper Cronk taking the night off). The Storm are on a revenge mission and they will stop at nothing until they have won the NRL title; it’s hard to envision a Melbourne slip up if they maintain their current form. With just three defeats all season, you’d be hard pressed to claim that the Storm don’t deserve another shot at the crown.
Realistically, there are three teams overwhelmingly favoured to win the Grand Final this year; Melbourne, Sydney, and defending champions Cronulla (we think the Sea Eagles are smokies, but they’d need a lot to break their way). The Sharks have already defeated Melbourne this year and neutrals will be cheering the current title holders on as they bid to retain rugby league’s ultimate prize.
Teams very rarely defend the crown but this Cronulla side are made of stern stuff and will take some beating if they find their best form in the second half of the campaign. It would certainly be foolish to write the current champions off just yet.
But out of all three sides, Melbourne are perhaps best equipped to lay claim to the Grand Final triumph. Experience and talent is key and the Storm just about edge their closest rivals in both categories – it should be a great game for those lucky enough to get tickets.
Of course, nothing is a given in sport and it is sure to be a titanic battle no matter who reaches the showpiece but Bellamy will be backing his boys to the hilt ahead of what could be a memorable Grand Final run. With the best attacking record and the best defensive statistics, at this stage, Melbourne are statistically the best team in the competition.
The Melbourne Storm will be quietly confident of snagging the NRL title this season and it would take a brave man to back against them. Bellamy’s side are the strongest and most resolute on the defensive side of the ball and they are arguably the most clinical and effective in attack.
Sydney’s Roosters may be crowing but this is Melbourne’s time to shine on the biggest stage of all and the old guard of Slater, Cronk, and Smith will all be key to their chances of lifting the crown at the Grand Final. Melbourne won’t have it all their own way but the Big 3 will ensure they’re the favourites to lift the trophy together one last time.