It astounds me that Manly are favourites for Sunday's season decider. They are certainly a chance to win, but favourites? The Storm looked pretty good to me without Cameron Smith last week, so no problems there. Manly are set up here for a another primetime choke. They are apparently much better than last season despite finishing with roughly the same amount of points on the ladder and instead of beating Melbourne once, they have lost both those clashes in 2008. It is somewhat difficult to line up the form of the two teams because their opposition in the preliminary finals were about as lame as can be. Melbourne looked patchy in their loss to NZ and thriller against Brisbane and then seemingly just had to turn up and let the Sharks shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly. Manly have thrashed the Dragons and NZ, two teams who, at the time of said thrashings, looked like they'd thrown in the towel for the year, and possibly already booked end of season trips for the following week. So who has had the better preparation? I think the Storm. They have been pressured in two of the games whereas the Eagles won far too easily to be comfortable with their lead-up matches. With that in mind, I expect the Storm to get out of the blocks quickly and really make the Eagles players go back to that dark place deep in their minds; memories from last year's grand final. They'll be out to put that nagging doubt through the Eagles and if they get on top early, they'll win. The packs are pretty evenly matched, so looking for some big grand final hits from both sides. Some other grave concerns for the Eagles are the lack of form from Greg Inglis in the last month and Matt Orford's potential kicking game meltdown. I would be very scared that Inglis is just about to light it up on the grand final stage again. And I would be very scared that Orford is once again going to stink it up in a big game.
In summary, Manly are a very good team...but I just don't like them. Plus my old man is mates with Cooper Cronk's old man so my whole family will be cheering on the Storm. Plus I win a small fortune if they get home. Admittedly, the chances of me going for Manly were never good but I am firm in my belief that Melbourne are the better team. And when you consider all of the whereto's and whyfor's in the above paragraph, the Storm are terrific value at $2.10. Inglis for the Clive Churchill medal at $8.50 will do me just fine. Go Storm!
Manly's favouritism shouldn't astound anyone who has watched them dismantle team after team for quite some time. In a matchup of the two best teams in the competition this year, it is not easy to pick a winner but I will go with momentum and take the Sea Eagles. In the last five weeks, Manly have reeled off 5 big wins. Through this stretch scoring a monstrous 36 points per game and allowing 10.8. In fact, Manly's dominance would be even more apparent if they had had a pulse coming out of the gates this year - dropping their first two games and 3 of their first 5.
If momentum is one reason that I will take the Sea-eagles, the other is some key personnel. Missing Cameron Smith may not look like a big deal when you are playing a thoroughly chokeriffic Sharks side. Against a team which will create pressure with its defence is another story.
And the guy that will play a far less ballyhooed role than Greg Inglis but could have the same impact? That's right, Manly's own Corn-rowed answer to the Rocket-man Rod Kafer:
Getting on to the Rocket man at $34 for the Clive Churchill medal is just common sense. If you think that Manly are the goods to win this one, there are realistically 5 guys you should be looking up for the CC. Take the 1,6,7,9 and the dominating centre.
Matt Orford: $7
Jamie Lyon: $13
Brett Stewart: $8
Matt Ballin: $21
Steve Matai: $34
In the Storm case, lets do the same thing:
There's your 10 guys to "work around." Of those 10, I wouldn't want Orford at $7. Most of the time I hear about Orford's good games, he plays a manager type of role and that is not going to get you a CC! Cronk I would have to think likewise. Brett Stewart and Slater may not see the room that they are used to so I think that you are really looking at 3 or 4 guys. Inglis, Folau, Ballin, Lyon and Matai. Given I am working around a Manly win, Ballin, Lyon and Matai are your guys. Especially Ballin. There has been some long-overdue recognition of his excellent season in the channel 9/Sydney media this week and that seems like it might gain some momentum.