This goes out to Australian Betfair clients and is sometimes posted on betting.betfair.com.au.
MELBOURNE STORM 1.66 (-3.5@ 1.83)
v PARRAMATTA EELS 2.48 (+3.5@ 2.18)
ANZ Stadium, Sunday 4th October, 5.15pm
Round 19 – Parramatta 18-16 Melbourne, Parramatta Stadium
Last finals clash:
2007 Finals Week 3: Melbourne 26-10 Parramatta, Docklands
Last premiership: Melbourne – 2007; Parramatta – 1986
Coach Craig Bellamy revealed this week how a team meeting in late August revamped Melbourne’s game plan and turned the team strategy on its ear. Limping into the finals with four losses in six, including against the Eels in round 19, the revised style has produced an average scoreline of 37-9 in the four matches since. Just twice in the regular season did the Storm rack up 40 points – they’ve matched that in just two finals games and defensively, the tries they have conceded only came after Melbourne had posted at least five of their own. Critics may argue that Manly and Brisbane had had enough by that stage of the season and the results flattered Melbourne. The rebuttal is that you can’t play well when a premiership team comprehensively works you over. The named starting XIII is unchanged from that of the past two matches. Back in Round 19, Melbourne were without Steve Turner, Cameron Smith, Brett Finch and Ryan Hinchcliffe. The loss of two hookers meant Dallas Johnson had to play as third-string hooker instead of lock, which cut out all influence from dummy half – few quick play the balls, less runs from dummy half etc as Johnson’s pace is not his best asset.
Melbourne can never remove the memory of last year’s Grand Final defeat, but a win here will do a lot to banish it to the history books. Genuine match winners in Billy Slater and Greg Inglis lead the way for Melbourne but the likes of Cronk, Finch (deemed too poor or the wrong fit to play for the Eels earlier in the season), Smith and Hoffman (both of whom sat on the sidelines this time last year) form the backbone of a side laced with good, hard-workers in a well-structured rather than a champion team. To win, Melbourne need to cut out the offloads from Parramatta, negate the effectiveness of Jarryd Hayne and find a weak link to break the line – possibly Eric Grothe who has only 62% tackle effectiveness this season.
Parramatta have won 10 of their past 11 matches, with their only lapse being once they had safely qualified for the finals. Every other match has been do-or-die; pressure at its best but it has to be very draining, mentally and physically, on the squad. Hayne escaped suspension during the week after a careless attempt to save a try with his feet, Nathan Cayless is severely doubtful with a hamstring injury, Fuifui Moimoi has been playing with a cracked rib, Daniel Mortimer will undoubtedly have had some issues recovering properly from the hip injury which almost kept him out the last week – the exertions of the last three months have taken their toll, can the blue and golds hold it together for one more special effort?
The Eels are a fantastic story this season, off-field turmoil, pushing for wooden spoon favouritism halfway through the season, matched at more than $200 to win the flag and now making the Grand Final from eighth. They had to beat the teams that finished one, two and three to reach this contest. Is there any petrol left in the tank? If you discount the round 26 match as little more than a training run to save energy for the finals, Parramatta have conceded just 70 points in 10 games. The squad is almost identical to that from round 19, with Feliti Mateo replacing Broderick Wright (who stands by for Cayless).
Melbourne plays a very structured game with tight defence and regular decoy play going forward. Parramatta’s resurgence has been heavily based on its offload strategy which either makes or breaks a team. In what has been a traumatic season for the NRL off-field, let’s hope the showpiece club game of the year is a classic.
Eagle-eyed fans would notice that I haven’t tipped the Eels at all recently so I am hesitant to bet against them again, however I do think Melbourne are the stronger side. They’ve been here before, they had the mid-season lull and have tapered nicely for the match that counts. They play such a well-scripted game plan that closing down the offloads is not beyond them.
If you fancy a couple of interest bets while watching the game while enjoying a few beers, take a look at these.
First Scoring Play – Melbourne try (has occurred five matches in a row, while Parra have only achieved it twice in their last eight games)
First Try Scorer – Greg Inglis hasn’t opened the try tally for Melbourne in his past seven matches. Steve Turner might be better value for the Storm, and if you want an Eels player on your side, try Joel Reddy, one of only four Eels to be in double figures for the season.
Clive Churchill Medal – the fullbacks Slater and Hayne are favoured but that position has only won the award twice since its inception in 1986. The most successful positions have been halfback (seven times) and lock (four times). On that logic, I’ll have a few bob on Cooper Cronk and Dallas Johnson. You’ll get big prices on Jeff Robson and Todd Lowrie for Parramatta.
5pts Back Melbourne -3.5 at 1.8 or better
2pts Back Melbourne Try – First Scoring Play, 2.2 or better
0.5pt Back Steve Turner (Storm), Joel Reddy (Eels) First Try Scorer, 14.5 and 18 respectively
0.25pts Back Cooper Cronk (Storm). Dallas Johnson (Storm) Clive Churchill Medal, 15 and 36.