2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 132/200 (66%) [Last week:1/2]
Line Betting: 54/99 (55%) [Last week: 1/2]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Grand Final Tip and Preview
Storm v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Storm 43.34% (1st), Cowboys -12.68% (13th)
Defense VOA: Storm -47.43% (1st), Cowboys 11.58% (12th)
I’m a Penrith Panthers fan.
I feel it’s important to point that out from the outset, for fear that you may read the rest of this piece, and disregard it as the nonsensical ramblings of a Melbourne Storm supporter.
I’m a Penrith Panthers fan, and I’ll be backing the Storm on Sunday. And so should you.
Regular readers of this column have come to expect a well-thought out tip for the weekend’s game(s), accompanied by an explanation for why they should back that team. This week is no exception, although the ‘why’ methodology is somewhat different to the norm.
For a start, sitting here pouring out numbers at you to explain why the Storm are better than the Cowboys would be a waste of both my time, and yours. The Storm are so overwhelmingly better than any other rugby league team in 2017, that they may as well be playing a different sport. If you crave our typical statistical explanations, please enjoy the following:
The Melbourne Storm’s performance in [statistical category] is [a very big number], whereas the Cowboy’s performance is just [a much, much smaller number]. Feel free to change the category at your own leisure, but just take us on our word: the Storm are better at every possible facet of rugby league*. Their offense, their defense, their forward pack. Their ability to create line breaks; their ability to prevent line breaks. Their fullback is better, their halves are better; their hooker might be the best we’ve ever seen. They’ve scored more points, conceded less points, and have categorically dominated almost every team they’ve come across. They’ve beaten every team in the competition besides the Gold Coast (who they still statistically hammered in defeat), and in many cases – such as the Cowboys – they’ve beaten them twice.
Which is why the Storm should win (we won’t go as far as to say will win – nothing is ever a certainty in rugby league). But is it why I’ll be rooting for them on Sunday evening? Yes, though only in part (let’s face it – only Novacastrians seem to genuinely enjoy cheering for losers).
The real reason why I’ll be cheering on the Storm this weekend is because it’s the right thing to do.
Whether you believe it or not, a Melbourne Storm victory will be the best thing for rugby league. I know, I know – Australians love the underdog. I get it. But in this particular instance, the Cowboys don’t even need to win for their season to be a success.
In 1976, the world fell in love with a fictional sports star named Rocky Balboa. Rocky was a down-on-his-luck boxer who was given a shot at Apollo Creed, the best fighter the world had ever seen. He had no business even believing he could compete, let alone entertaining the idea of victory. Rocky became a fictional hero to sports fans everywhere; a legend who transcends generations. You know why?
(40-year-old spoiler alert)
Rocky took the fight to Apollo Creed, went toe-to-toe for the whole 15 rounds, but, ultimately, lost. And in losing, he became the ultimate hero; an icon. And the Cowboys can be the same.
The fact that they’re even in the Grand Final is an enormous accomplishment in itself. Here’s a team who lost the best forward in rugby league all the way back in Round 2. Then, they were forced to play through the back half of the season without the best halfback of his generation. At various times, they’ve been forced to go without other representative calibre players, like Justin O’Neill, Gavin Cooper and Lachlan Coote. Yet, they’re still here. They should have been bundled out after Round 26, only earning a second chance courtesy of a Dragons capitulation. And yet, they’re still here. They’ve fought and scrapped and bit and chewed their way into a Grand Final against all odds, and that’s an accomplishment that deserves to be honoured.
However, if they were to somehow win this weekend, they won’t be. The narrative will change. Because at this point, we all know that the Storm are the best team of 2017 (if not the best team of the last 20 years). If the Cowboys were to actually win, they’ll instead be remembered like the Stephen Bradburys of the world – folks who were obviously not the best in their particular sporting endeavours, but won anyway, largely through good fortune. They’d become a joke. Nobody will look back on 2017 and think – “man, how good were those Cowboys?”. They’ll instead think “man, the Storm really screwed the pooch there”. Instead of being a symbol for hard work and fighting until the bitter end, the Cowboys would instead descend into a punch-line; remembered as that ‘other team’ from the time that the Storm choked at the final hurdle (much like the 2001 Knights).
They don’t deserve that, and neither do we.
Like you, I’ve spent the past 30 weeks hanging on every game, riding the highs and lows of my own team, as well as watching and studying the travels of the other 15 sides. Collectively, along with millions of others, we choose to spend our weekends closely following the game that we love. Having invested that much time and energy into the season, do you really want to get to the end and find that the seven months you invested didn’t matter? That the team who was the best the entire time didn’t win; that instead the champion was just whoever could hang around long enough to be there on the day that the best team crapped themselves? What would be the point of the last 29 weeks?
I’m not arguing for a first-past-the-post system like English soccer, that’s not the purpose of this spiel. Most years, the Grand Final will pit two teams against each other who have performed so closely that a battle for the title is the right way to decide it. But this isn’t one of those times.
This season hasn’t been close. It was close between the other 15 sides, which makes the Cowboys’ place in the decider completely deserved, and something to be revered. But from the beginning until the end, it’s always been the Storm’s to lose.
We live in a confusing, unpredictable world. In 2017, we’re surrounded by countless things that simply shouldn’t have happened but somehow did. Donald Trump became the leader of the free world. Brexit happened. The Cronulla freaking Sharks won a premiership. In a world like this, is it possible to believe in anything? To trust that we genuinely understand what’s going on in the world around us?
I’d like to think so. I’d like to think that the past 29 weeks weren’t for nothing. That the journey we’ve all ridden, watching our teams fall along the way, meant something. That it was a slow, methodical process of weeding out the best from the rest, and not just pointlessly shuffling pieces around on the way to a briefly amusing, but ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.
So I’m choosing to believe in the Melbourne Storm.
And so should you.
Our unrealistically specific tip: Storm 36-10
*Not technically true – the Storm have conceded more penalties than the Cowboys (though many of those were on their own line, and of their own choosing).
**On his second crack, in Rocky 2, he won. And likewise, we expect the Cowboys to get it done in 2018. We’re calling it early.