The wait for the NRL grand final is almost over as the Cronulla Sharks get ready to battle the Melbourne Storm for a place in history on October 3.
After 26 rounds of thrilling football and a finals series that will stand the test of time, the minor premiers, Melbourne Storm, are hoping to add another premiership to their illustrious history, while the Cronulla Sharks are aiming for their first Premiership win.
Both sides have earned the right to be in the final. Melbourne edged a victory over Canberra Raiders in the dying minutes of the game; the Sharks bought their ticket to the grand final by beating the defending premiers, North Queensland Cowboys, in a lopsided game.
The Sharks hope to bring the NRL premiership home to the Shire for the first time in the team’s existence. Since the team began in 1967, the Sharks have reached just three grand finals. They went down to Manly 10-7 in 1973 and lost to the Sea Eagles in 1978 in extra time after an 11-all draw. Cronulla would wait almost 20 years later for their next chance, but this time, it was the Brisbane Broncos who shattered the hearts of Shire fans by winning 26-8 in Super League’s only final. Having come so close before, Cronulla will be burning to win the big one.
Melbourne have been one of the most successful NRL clubs since entering the competition in 1998, just a year after Cronulla lost that Super League decider. It took the Storm one year to make it to the grand final and win the prestigious Provan-Summons Trophy. Melbourne returned to the grand final in 2006, but couldn’t hold off the inspired Brisbane Broncos, losing 15-8. They didn’t have to wait too long for redemption, beating the Manly Sea Eagles 34-8 the following year. In 2008, Manly returned the favour by thrashing Melbourne 40-0.
Melbourne used that embarrassing loss to spur themselves to a 23-16 success over the Parramatta Eels in 2009. Both premierships were stripped after the club was found to have breached the league’s salary cap. The Storm regrouped and put the drama behind them, winning their last grand final 14-4 over the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2012.
The road to premiership glory has been steady for both teams. The Storm barely wavered all season, and sat comfortably inside the top four most of the way. The Sharks never fell out of the top four, winning 15 consecutive games before a late season slump that allowed the Storm to leapfrog them into the minor premiership.
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy has proved himself as one of the best coaches of the modern era and knows exactly what it takes to be successful on the first Sunday of October.
The key players for the Storm will be the 2016 Dally M award-winner Cooper Cronk and his captain Cameron Smith who have vast experience of exercising their skills and controlling a game under high pressure. Both have played over 300 games for the Storm, and are already two of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of boots. They were vital components in shutting down the Canberra Raiders last week, securing themselves consecutive sets in the dying minutes of the game to crush any hope of a Canberra comeback.
Cameron Munster, who replaced injured fullback Billy Slater has been a great addition to the side, while Jesse Bromwich has arguably been the best forward in the competition this year. Add the tag team of Fijian wingers Marika Koroibete and Suliasi Vunivalu who have given fans many memorable moments this season and the Storm have the best strike power all over the park and the best defence on the field. The old saying goes “Defence wins premierships” and that may hold true Sunday.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has overcome the horrors of the ASADA peptide scandal in spectacular fashion, building on the improvements of last season to guide the Sharks to a grand final. He has built a side that is a perfect combination of experience and youthful exuberance. Cronulla’s forwards have been their strong suit over the past few years, but their outside backs have taken the side to the next level. James Maloney and Chad Townsend have provided the Sharks with a steady halves partnership, feeding the outside backs Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird, with Ben Barba strong behind them at fullback. Hooker Michael Ennis, set to retire this year, has had one of the best years of his career, just two years after being dumped Canterbury Bulldogs. He has proved himself one of the best in the game and will leave a memorable legacy. Captain Paul Gallen has been inspirational, leading the forward pack with heart and soul.
This promises to be one hell of a clash. The Sharks want to farewell Michael Ennis by bringing home the premiership. Melbourne will want to reassert dominance in the NRL. The Sharks may be the underdogs, but they’re the team Sydneysiders will barracking for, a challenging mix of NSW and Australian representatives and youths waiting to write their names in the history books. – Kamilia Hanna
Photos from the NRL’s Facebook page.