Will the Melbourne Storm make the same mistake they did in last year’s NRL Grand Final, via Matty Johns.
Will the Melbourne Storm make the same mistake they did in last year’s NRL Grand Final, via Matty Johns.

Johns: Storm can exploit underdog tag

From the opening set of six you could see Melbourne Storm were in trouble. To borrow a line from Sean Connery in The Untouchables: "They'd turned up to a gunfight carrying a knife."

In last year's grand final, the Roosters attacked the contest with a frenzied underdog mentality, the Storm looked nervous favourites.

It's hard to know what Cooper Cronk's cracked scapular did to the mentality of both sides on the night.

For the Storm, it appeared win-win. If Cronk were out, the Roosters lose their general. If he plays, he's a passenger and a huge target defensively.

It was all good for Melbourne, there appeared no upside for the Roosters.

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Cronk’s injury gave the Roosters something to rally around last year. Photo: Brett Costello
Cronk’s injury gave the Roosters something to rally around last year. Photo: Brett Costello

 

But there was, knowing they were taking the field, effectively with only 12 men, the Roosters players were aware they had to elevate themselves, and did so magnificently.

Luke Keary took the role of centre piece playmaker and was Clive Churchill medallist, while Jared Waerea-Hargreavesand Jake Friend put in close to career best performances.

Going into Saturday night, the roles at least in the build up have been reversed, Melbourne the distinct outsiders, Roosters favourites, as they have been all year.

Underdogs status in big games means you enjoy the build up more, but it guarantees nothing on the night, you've still got to go out there and make things work your way.

Let's check some of the factors which will decide this contest.

 

LISTEN UP! Australian entrepreneur John Singleton sits down with Matty Johns. 'Singo' has long been involved in rugby league, of course, as Official Patron of the Newtown Jets, and he might not be done just yet.

 

 

 

 

THE SCG

Before a ball was kicked it was clear this ground had the potential to become a weapon for the Roosters.

The nature of the oval ground makes it tricky for players to get their bearings.

The Roosters did everything they could to assimilate to their new home, even sleeping over night at the ground, and they've reaped the benefits, losing only the opening match of the season.

To prepare for this game the Storm have trained on Collingwood's oval training ground, marking out the dimensions of the SCG, but there's no doubt the roosters enjoy a distinct home ground advantage.

 

What effect will Waerea-Hargreaves’ absence have? Photo: Matt King/Getty Images
What effect will Waerea-Hargreaves’ absence have? Photo: Matt King/Getty Images

 

NO JWH

No Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is a big out, he's the Roosters' middle leader, and although the game has changed dramatically from the 1980s and '90s, you still need an intimidator who others look to when the physicality increases.

The Storm's big men were great against Parramatta, particularly Nelson Asofa-Solomona, but as the Roosters players showed in last year's decider, they are more than capable of elevating to cover the loss of a key man.

Nonetheless, Melbourne will fancy their chances of winning the crucial yardage battle with Jared in the stands.

 

Vunivalu can expect more bombs this time. Photo: AAP Image/Scott Barbour
Vunivalu can expect more bombs this time. Photo: AAP Image/Scott Barbour

 

KICK HIGH

A tactic which proved a masterstroke in last year's grand final was the Rooster's high kick, which suffocated the Storm's back three on kick receptions.

The kicks were perfectly placed and timed, and saw Roosters players hit and drive the likes of Addo-Carr and Vunavalu backwards on reception, denying them any space or momentum to get sets going. As a result Melbourne just couldn't get any rhythm in their attack.

The Storm will look to disrupt this tactic by applying pressure to Keary and Cronk's kicks.

This little battle is a crucial one.

 

Limiting Smith‘s time and space is key, as always. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Limiting Smith‘s time and space is key, as always. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

 

CAMERON SMITH

The Storm's spine has very much a run first, pass second bias.

This works brilliantly when Cameron Smith is able to get out of dummy half because he then assumes the role of primary playmaker.

But if Smith can't get out regularly then the Storm start to look a bit like a team who are one playmaker short.

This is another little battle which is absolutely crucial: the Roosters markers and their ability to contain Smith.

 

Containing Keary can leave you exposed elsewhere. Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
Containing Keary can leave you exposed elsewhere. Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

 

KEARY VS SCOTT

Craig Bellamy put Curtis Scott into right centre last week, possibly with an eye to this match.

Scott is an excellent defender and responds to challenges put to him by Bellamy, and this week is a big challenge, defending the Keary, Cordner and Latrell combination.

Keary provides lots of variation on the Rooster's left and will be testing Curtis' defensive decision making all contest.

Curtis has to be careful not to have eyes just for Latrell, Keary's pump fake long to Latrell and short ball to Boyd Cordner is a huge weapon.

 

Can Tedesco be stopped? Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Can Tedesco be stopped? Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

 

TEDESCO VS PAPENHUYZEN

What a clash this will be between the two former Tigers.

James Tedesco continues to get better as a player. His sense of where to be is outstanding. The way he creates a threat in the middle, but then in a flash swings to the edge, is a massive weapon for Cronk and Keary.

Tedesco's combination with his playmakers is so dangerous, but then he's equally as dangerous when he decides to go it alone. Speed, footwork and power are quite a combination.

Ryan Papenhuyzen has been a revelation for Melbourne. He doesn't have the playmaking sense of some other fullbacks just yet, but his acceleration and willingness to keep taking on the tight defenders makes him so dangerous through the middle field.

I can see both fullbacks running for over 200 metres.