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GF preview: Cowboys v Storm

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NRL Grand Final
Cowboys v Storm
Kick off 7.15pm (6.15pm Qld) Sunday, ANZ Stadium

It’s a David and Goliath battle for the ages as the National Rugby League’s runaway minor premiers the Melbourne Storm play the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys, 2017’s Cinderella story.

Scraping into the top eight courtesy of a Round 26 Bulldogs win over the Dragons, the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys haven’t missed a beat since, racking up increasingly impressive wins over the Sharks, Eels and Roosters in a three-week Sydney blitzkrieg.

Now the North Queenslanders face the sternest of tests against a true modern-day NRL powerhouse.

It’ll be the controlled perfection and cool-headed execution of the Storm versus the never-say-die collective resilience of a Cowboys team that has played out of its collective skins sans inspirational co-captain Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston for most of the season.

FORM PLAYERS LEADING FORM TEAMS

It’s no coincidence that both sides squaring off in this year’s NRL grand final are being led by players showing their best form of the year.

For the Storm, mercurial skipper Cameron Smith has been at his tactical and crafty peak, managing games expertly and getting the absolute best out of his 16 teammates.

Smith’s strongest qualities are his decision-making and teamwork, particularly his close on-field relationship with Storm halfback Cooper Cronk.

This pair – along with the able assistance of fullback Billy Slater and five-eighth Cameron Munster – get the very best out of each other and are masters at executing game plans, as well as resisting opposition onslaughts.

The Brisbane Broncos threw everything but the kitchen sink at Melbourne in the opening 20 minutes in the preliminary final, but the Storm stood their collective ground, giving no quarter, conceding no tries, and eventually cantering away to a 30-0 win.

For the Cowboys, Michael Morgan has been leading the charge with as fine a playmaking stint as has been seen in the game.

Throughout this finals series, Morgan has quite simply been the man, having a hand in everything good the team does – and there’s been plenty of good to go around.

Morgan’s great strength has been the sublime execution of his vast skill set, led by a brilliant kicking game.

To see the way he finished off sets last weekend was a thing of beauty, with precision bombs, a booming 40-20 and deft grubbers behind the Roosters’ goal-line all on display.

The thing with Morgan is that his passing/kicking game and his running game are as good as one another, and if opposition defences home in too much on one aspect, he’ll seamlessly flick the switch and burn the defence with the alternative.

With Morgan running the show at halfback as well as he has been, the Cowboys are every chance of pulling off a massive upset.

AN INTERSTATE RIVALRY

The Cowboys and the Storm have played each other 35 times, with the Storm holding a clear 25 to 10 advantage, including victory in the past five matches.

The teams have met twice this season: the Storm edged the Cowboys 23-22 in Melbourne – in a game played without both teams’ State of Origin stars – while several weeks later in Townsville, the visiting Storm were too good for the Cowboys in Townsville, winning 26-8.

The last time the Cowboys beat the Storm was in the 2015 preliminary final – where they triumphed 32-12 – en route to North Queensland’s maiden NRL premiership.

Six of the past eight clashes between the sides have been decided by eight points or less, while three of them have been one-point results.

The Storm have twice beat the Cowboys 58-12: in Townsville in 2007 and in Melbourne in 2010.

The Cowboys’ biggest winning margin over the Storm was a 40-8 triumph in 2006.

The Storm haven’t a match lost since Round 18 in the regular season, a winning streak of nine games.

STATS CENTRAL

  • The Cowboys are the first team since the Parramatta Eels in 2009 to make the grand final from eighth position, and only the third team in the NRL era to come from eighth or lower (the Bulldogs came from 9th in 1998).

  • The Cowboys used the second-most (32) and the Storm the third-most (31) players throughout the season.

  • The Storm have conceded 16 points in the finals so far, the least points conceded by a grand finalist since the Roosters in 2013 (14).

  • Including this season, the Storm have featured in six of the past 10 grand finals, winning three. Cooper Cronk is the only player to have featured in all six.

  • Jason Taumalolo has made 757m throughout the finals series (three games), at an average of 252m per game.

  • Since moving to halfback in Round 17, Michael Morgan has six tries, five line-breaks, 11 try assists, eight line-break assists, 18 offloads and 12 forced dropouts in 12 games.

  • For the second year running, the Storm enter a grand final with the stingiest defence in the competition, conceding an average of 14 points a game.

  • The Storm's Josh Addo-Carr leads the competition with 25 line-breaks, while his teammate Suliasi Vunivalu is leading the competition with 23 tries scored.

JASE’S CHASE

An intriguing subplot to Sunday’s grand final is the expected attainment of a running metres milestone by Cowboys wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo.

The hulking lock is less than 60m short of hitting the 5000m mark for the season, which would be the first time a forward has ever broken the barrier.

That Taumalolo is primed to achieve the feat is even more remarkable when considering that he missed two games through suspension at the start of the year.

Also, a good portion of those running metres are made with two or three blokes hanging off his back.

Taumalolo should pass the milestone mark some time during his first stint, which usually lasts around 35 minutes.

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