Key match-ups that will decide the 2017 NRL Grand Final

BY CURTIS WOODWARD

@woodward_curtis

 

MORGAN V SLATER

Michael Morgan’s kicking game recently has been as impressive as anything we’ve seen from Immortal Andrew Johns, teammate Johnathan Thurston and his opponent on Sunday Cooper Cronk. But Morgan this weekend comes up against the mighty Billy Slater – the greatest positional fullback the game has seen. Slater also possesses speed and the ability to create options for the deadly Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr. Morgan will never have a challenge like kicking for space against Slater. The Storm fullback covers more ground in a shorter space of time than any player I’ve ever seen. The Cowboys need to kick early and do it on the back of quick play-the-balls and momentum and try to find a corner or sideline as much as possible.

 

 

SIZE V GUTS

I really feel like the Cowboys are going to have trouble with the different body shapes and sheer size of the Storm. Coaches actively look for different types of body shapes to fit into their roster. Some suggested the Cowboys would struggle when man mountain James Tamou left for Penrith because he was totally opposite to Matt Scott and offered something different to North Queensland. They’ve done an amazing job to get to the grand final but can the 187cm tall Scott Bolton and 183cm John Asiata compete with the 194cm Jesse Bromwich and 196cm Jordan McLean? The tallest guy on the Cowboys’ bench is Coen Hess at 190cm while the Storm has Nelson Asofa-Solomoma at 200cm and 120kg. It’s one thing to be gutsy, it’s another to win the battle.

 

COWBOYS V SMITH

There has been nobody better in the history of the game at controlling the tempo of a match. Cameron Smith is a genius. He can spark a Storm assault, slow it down or bring his forwards through the ruck depending on what he’s thinking. But he can only do that when his team is dominating the ruck. It’s an uphill battle but North Queensland’s pigs need to play like they’ve never played before. Jason Taumalolo can’t make every tackle and he can’t do all the work from first marker. The other Cowboys need to stand up and be as brutal as they’ve ever been. They need to disrupt and create chaos. They need not minimise Smith, rather eliminate him. Smith can’t play without some sort of flow. That flow needs to be destroyed.

 

 

STORM V TAUMALOLO

Melbourne’s forwards need to get it into their heads that Jason Taumalolo is going to take his runs no matter what and he’s going to hurt someone. So if the big guy is running at you anyway, why not get up and meet him before he meets you?

Hurt him or he’s going to hurt you.

Line speed is so important.

There’s no point having four guys there waiting for him if you’re just going to sit there and wait for him. He’ll make twenty metres in spite of you. Take a mate up, shoot off the line and hit him. Hit him with everything and make it stick. Knock him down a couple of times and see what happens.

 

 

STORM V MORGAN/MARTIN

Coaches train their players to hit opposition halves after kicking – unfortunately it’s part of the game. Cooper Cronk has had more hits than The Beatles but I guess he’s used to it.

The question is, how do Morgan and Te Maire Martin react to such an onslaught?

How do they handle the pain?

Expect to see Dale Finucane and company test them out throughout the 80 minutes.

 

BELLAMY V GREEN

Both are great men and both have won titles. In a grand final, tactics become everything.

Brian Smith was and still is a rugby league genius but he made a huge tactical error in the 2001 decider. Instead of keeping starting hooker Brad Drew on the field after 20 minutes, he replaced him with P.J Marsh. Despite an avalanche of points from grand final opponents Newcastle, Smith made the robotic move of substituting Drew because he had been doing it previously with success.

Warren Ryan still cops it from Balmain fans for replacing Steve Roach and Paul Sironen in the 1989 grand final with the game on the line.

The 2017 grand final could come down to how Bellamy injects Asofa-Solomoma or how Green uses Hess – or more importantly at what times.

Injuries could also play a roll.

Who moves where?

What player makes the most sense there?

 

COWBOYS D V THE BLITZ

Storm version 2017 is the most dangerous in the NRL and can burn you anywhere on the field. If it isn’t Addo-Carr or Slater or Vunivalu, it’s Cameron Muster, Cronk or Smith.

The Cowboys need to defend like they’ve never defended before.

We’ve all heard coaches and players talk about the 1% plays but this is where it counts.

You ain’t in Kansas anymore Cowboys.

@woodward_curtis

 

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