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NRL Grand Final preview

Rugby league in the southern hemisphere concludes this weekend with the NRL Grand Final. Time to draft in an expert, NRL aficionado Chris Ryan, to dissect Sydney's night in the spotlight. Follow him via @imdabomb82.

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NRL Grand Final Preview – Sydney Roosters v Manly Sea Eagles

And so it is, that after 26 regular season rounds, three weeks of finals, endless Burgess clan stories, an overload of Sonny Bill Williams and the odd Canberra player making a goose of themselves, we are down to the final two, the Chooks and the Sea Eagles, let the feathers fly!

This looks set to be a classic grand final match-up, as the competition’s two best defensive units go at it in front of a packed house - that is if the competing fans manage to find their way to Homebush, with neither sets of fans all that renowned for their ability to get out of their own postcode, let alone travel to away games. We have a rare situation for a Grand Final, whereby these teams have already met three times this year, so we have a great base to work off when analysing this match, and setting prices. The problem for Manly is that the Roosters are a horrible match-up for them, which has been clearly shown in their 2013 matches to date, with the Roosters holding a 3-0 lead, as well as 3-0 ATS. The reason for the poor matchup, is the way in which Manly attacks plays right into the hands of the Roosters defensive structure.

Manly has a very well drilled attacking structure that relies on many long shifts of the ball from one side of the field to the other, multiple decoys, and often involves Brett Stewart wrapping around the back looking to create the extra man. The reality is that this style of attack has become relatively homogenous in the NRL these days, with most teams employing these tactics. However Manly is so well drilled at it, and so good at it, they haven’t needed to develop too many other ways of finding the try line. They rely on baiting oppositions into playing a Russian roulette style of defence where the defensive winger usually shoots up and tries to cut off that play early by taking out the centre or the fullback wrapping around. Sometimes they are successful, while other times Manly are too slick for them which leads to room for Taufua or David Williams to score down the flanks, hence the high numbers of tries Manly score down the wings (or through Lyon and Matai in the centres).

The problem is, however, the Roosters don’t defend like other teams. They have a much more patient, sliding defence that pressures teams to send the ball to a wing with no room to move. You won’t see Daniel Tupou or Roger Tuivasa-Sheck shooting up in defence anything like what other wingers do. This has caused Manly enormous headaches in the pair’s three matches to date, having scored only three tries in three matches, which is mind boggling considering the attacking arsenal Manly has. I think Manly should mix up their style of attack more to defeat the Roosters, but I thought that three weeks ago in week one of the finals, and they didn’t do anything different. With a style that has been so successful for them, and a stubborn coach, I don’t expect too much different in this game either.

The three matches they have played to date have all been very similar, Manly have actually dominated field position and ball possession for large parts of the game, yet haven’t really looked close to scoring tries. And in the redzone, their attack has looked positively anaemic, with the Roosters repelling wave after wave in attack, with relative ease, such is the confidence in their structure. Much will be made of the fact that Brett Stewart wasn’t in the side three weeks ago when they played, and how big a difference he makes to the side. And it’s true that he had a fabulous game last week, and was crucial in Manly getting over Souths. However the loss of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in that game was just as crucial to the Roosters. Sam Moa went down in that game early, and without JWH, they struggled for go forward big time. And when Moa came back on in the second half, it was apparent how much they had missed their two big front rowers, as he made an immediate impact.

The Roosters have seemed content to a degree to sit on their heels, play a safe game plan, and almost allow Manly to dictate the game, because they were so confident they could defend them out of the game in all three matches. And they did. However on the big stage, I don’t expect them to sit back as much, and we should expect a bit more creativity from the Chooks. The reality is that Manly played their heart out in attack in all three matches, threw everything at them bar the proverbial kitchen sink, and came up with a virtual duck egg. And on that basis, despite winning all three games, I actually think the Roosters have more room to improve than Manly, as we are yet to see them really unleash their attacking arsenal against Manly.

It comes as no surprise that I think the Roosters present as value, I backed them in all three previous games, and see no reason to change here. I marked them 1.58 shots, so a best price of 1.70 provides sufficient value. As well as the 1.70, I’ve also taken some -2.5, and shop around because with the Grand Final some bookmakers are providing some no juice lines, with reasonable limits. Beyond the H2H and lines prices, I expect this match to follow similar lines to the previous encounters, and be a tight, low scoring encounter. The total has been set at 33.5, which is probably half a point shy of me playing an unders, so if the line moved up, or we got closer to evens for the 33.5 it would be worth a play. Leave me out of Churchill Medal winner and first try scorer markets, they’re big margin markets that the bookies fill their pockets with. Beyond that, playing Manly under their total (set at about 15) and opposing Taufua or Williams to score tries look like +ev plays.

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