NRL Grand Final: Roosters v Raiders Preview & Betting Tips
Will the Roosters make history by going back-to-back or can Canberra end 25 years of Premiership heartache? It’s all on the line Sunday night.
Sydney Roosters v Canberra Raiders – ANZ Stadium – 7:30pm
In 2003 the Sydney Roosters were hot favourites to become the first side to successfully defend a Premiership in a unified competition since the famous Broncos in 1992/93. A wet and greasy night though – combined with a draining preliminary final – saw one of the biggest Grand Final boilovers in the modern era with Penrith stunning them 19-6. Fast forward 16 years and as fate would have it, the Roosters are again presented such an opportunity in remarkably similar circumstances as huge favourites against unwanted outsiders.
The Roosters’ 14-6 win over Melbourne was gripping footy at perhaps the highest intensity seen in NRL level this season. Premierships are won on defence and while the Chooks boast more firepower than a New Year’s Eve display in Sydney, it was their defensive hustle which saw them break Storm hearts. Clinging onto an 8-0 lead entering the second half, possession and momentum swung towards Melbourne yet despite ample opportunities only a last tackle Nelson Asofa-Solomona barge over from a swift Brandon Smith play the ball saw the Storm break through the Roosters’ goal-line defence. Cooper Cronk was a key figure in this with two monumental try savers on Kenny Bromwich and Justin Olam despite the veteran’s significant size difference.
James Tedesco also pulled off a try saver of the year contender to maintain the Roosters’ advantage later on and the Roosters now enter their third Grand Final in the Trent Robinson era. It speaks volumes of the Roosters’ mentality when in their last three finals (Melbourne GF 18, Souths QF 19, Melbourne PF 19) they’ve conceded a single try each match, off an intercept, solo linebreak and barge over. Not even having two of their first-choice backrow unavailable last week (Jake Friend and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves) made a difference to their defensive structure. Melbourne – perhaps NRL’s most methodical side – threw everything they could think of and in the end resorted to hurried early-set kicks, an ominous sign even the best have struggled against the Bondi Wall.
It's also frightening for Raiders punters to look at each Rooster back and realise every member – all Premiership winners - is a potential game-breaker. In the 2003 decider, Todd Byrne was an honest toiler while young incumbent halfback Brett Finch was benched. There’s no battlers or halves reshuffling this time around. Cronk is appearing in his ninth NRL Grand Final – the same number as Canterbury (4), Parramatta (2), Souths (1), St George-Illawarra (1) and Cronulla (1) combined. Luke Keary is the reigning Clive Churchill Medallist and James Tedesco blitzed the Dally M awards.
Perhaps the only potential flaw for the Chooks could be in their co-captain Jake Friend’s potential return from arm and calf injuries. Friend was almost available for the Storm game before narrowly failing a fitness test and rookie Sam Verrills continued his impressive hooking performances, not looking out of place against the best in Cameron Smith. Robinson though has shown his hand in selecting players for Grand Finals either coming off injury layoffs (Boyd Cordner and Luke O’Donnell 2013) or not close to 100% fitness (Cooper Cronk 2018), so Friend’s likely inclusion may come at a slight disruption to the combinations formed from Verrills. Nine commentator Andrew Johns did suggest Verrills’ distribution last week to his halves wasn’t the best so perhaps the Immortal may be in the camp of rushing Friend back despite being absent from round 19.
Last year the Roosters blitzed the Storm in the Grand Final to end the contest inside 20 minutes. They did likewise to the Rabbitohs in week one of this year’s finals. Should they hit the ground running on Sunday night, we’ll be looking at the first back to back Premier in 26 years.
Canberra meanwhile is partying like it’s 1994 – their gutsy 16-10 defeat of Souths catapulting the Green Machine into their first Grand Final since Mal Meninga bowed out in fairytale fashion 25 years ago. The Raiders have defied their past recent history of seemingly being so close but so far and their Bunnies heroics were the perfect demonstration of how far Canberra has come under Ricky Stuart this season. Souths dominated possession, territory, scoring opportunities and even had a man advantage for all but the final 10 minutes yet Canberra could not be stopped. Josh Papalii is another example of Canberra’s evolution from flashes of promise into a full-blown Premiership contender.
The rampaging Queenslander was sensational in the pressure cooker Preliminary Final atmosphere, the only Raider to surpass 100 run metres (168m) to go with 40 tackles and the game-clinching try despite Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad copping a sin bin. Aidan Sezer has similarly developed throughout 2019, going from reserve grade and a mooted mid-season release to now a Grand Final halfback. Sezer though has been challenged in the media to step up even more so this week, with his halves partner Jack Wighton in brilliant form and dominating the kicking game.
The fact there’s improvement left in the Raiders’ attack is a great sign given the task they face of NRL’s most proven big-game defensive side. The Raiders have made an artform of one-on-one steals and notoriously exposed the Roosters’ ball-security weakness when they last faced off. Look for the Raiders to increase this tactic, even more, this time around – the risk of giving away a penalty or a set restart against the reward of flipping territory and frustrating the Roosters is well worth it.
Josh Hodgson is making a case of being the best Englishman in the competition and the wily hooker will relish the biggest stage he’s played in – he’s also capable of taking matters into his own hands with clever kicks or darting runs against staggered markers. The Raiders will also look to shake up the Roosters’ middle with offloads from Papalii, the likes of Wighton and Nicoll-Klokstad thriving in support runs. Such is the strength of the Roosters’ goal-line defence in their two finals games, the Raiders may feel they’re more likely to break the Premiers’ line in midfield rather than camping out inside 20 metres – second-phase play will come into play even more here.
All season Stuart has pushed his side away from the narrative of being the underdog, wanting them to believe in themselves as the superior side. The Raiders’ collection of talent spanning Australia, New Zealand, England and the Pacific Islands have become one of the most entertaining sides to watch in 2019. Riding a wave of finals momentum and neutral support, Canberra boasts the quality to cause one of the all-time Grand Final upsets and end their 25 year Premiership drought.
• Canberra has not beaten the Roosters away since 2011 (0-5).
• The Roosters won both head-to-heads this year, each time with the Chooks winning the first half and the Raiders the second.
• The Roosters have conceded only five tries in their past four finals. Joseph Leilua is the only Raider to have played an NRL Grand Final – for the Roosters in 2010.
• The Raiders have a 4-1 record at ANZ Stadium since 2016, while in the same timeframe the Roosters have a 9-3 record.
• Daniel Tupou has seven tries in his last eight Raiders games, including a double in round 21.
• Tupou also has scored in both his Grand Final appearances.
Best bet: Roosters first half - $1.65* (Unibet)
Value bet: Daniel Tupou anytime try scorer/Roosters - $3.15* (TopBetta)