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Grand Final Preview

It's NRL Grand Final day so if you're like me and only take a fleeting glance at league during the season, it's time to read the astute analysis of Chris Ryan, @imdabomb82.

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Grand Final Preview - Souths v Canterbury

26 rounds, three weeks of finals and we are down to the final week where we are bombarded with Burgess boys coverage for a while. Also known as the Grand Final. The rampant Rabbits taking on the Dogs who have made it all the way from 8th into the Grand Final. With all the coverage on Souths’ dominance over the last eight weeks, it can be easy to forget how good Canterbury was at the start of the season, leading the comp, and looking excellent through the first 10 weeks of the year, with a first class defence, and a love of grinding out a win. Things turned on the 6 and 7 playing Origin, they missed players through that period, lost momentum, and despite making it to the GF, have never really been able to replicate that form. Souths on the other hand have peaked at the right time of the year, playing good football for most of the season, and then cranking it up a notch and putting in some very complete and clinical 80 minute games over the last third of the season, and giving many an opponent no chance.

All the talk of Grand Final week has been both teams playing without a hooker. A very unusual situation in Rugby League. Perhaps they are saving that for Mad Monday. So analysing the impact of the loss of Isaac Luke and (likely) Michael Ennis is crucial. Unquestionably Luke is the much better player, and in my view the second best hooker in the comp (behind Smith but better than Farah) and one of the most underrated players in the game. It’s a huge loss. He provides all the tempo with which Souths like to play, he provides the speed from dummy half with his incisive and powerful runs, and his quick and fluent ball distribution puts Souths on the front foot. Michael Ennis is former Origin player in decline, and offers none of that speed and go forward that Luke does. BUT, he is their leader. Their onfield voice. He pesters the other team into annoyance (and sometimes overreactions) that net Canterbury penalties. It can’t be understated what losing your captain and more importantly your voice on the field can do to a team. I’ve made plenty of coin in my time making the intangible of losing the voice on the field into a tangible with my handicapping, and it is often missed by bookmakers. But if we are to stop here, the loss of Luke is still more important as his far superior play is outweighs the loss of Ennis’ voice and leadership. And I suspect this is what the bookies have done, and basically called the backup 9s as equal. That’s not close to true. Apisai Koroisau is a specialist hooker, has played plenty of 1st grade this year, and is comfortable in the Souths system. He’s not of Isaac Luke’s standard, but is a handy back up. Canterbury have yet to name a backup 9 (with Ennis still some small chance to play, but if he does he will likely be limited), with Moses Mbye the likely new 9. Mbye has never played 9 at 1st grade level, having played in the centres and five-eighth. And for a grand final I don’t want a guy learning on the job! There has been some talk about Reni Maitua being thrust into the 9, I think Des is too smart for that, but if he does, it will be a disaster! Damien Cook has also been mentioned, but he’s nothing more than a reserve grader, little upside, and not much experience. Reynolds’ name has also been bandied about to fill in at times during the game at hooker, but that will hurt the rest of the game, leaving only the less dynamic Hodkinson to try and punch holes through Souths from first receiver. All in all the bookies make the loss of Luke as more important than the loss of Ennis, yet I make that more of a neutral situation.

Souths' game plan is to play with speed and bust you through the middle with brute force. Canterbury is one of the teams best equipped to counteract this, and they have one of the biggest forward packs in the comp, although they go about their work with a big more guile with their short passing game from the likes of Graham, Eastwood and T-Rex. The big difference though is that Souths have a greater ability to sustain it for 80 minutes, Canterbury very noticeably slow in the 2nd half, and quite amazingly haven’t won a 2nd half in 8 weeks, despite making a grand final! Canterbury might hang around early, and make the first half a grind, but they don’t have the points in them to compete over 80 mins. In the last 18 rounds Canterbury have scored 30 points just once (and that was 30 exactly in an average effort against Wests who had conceded 64 and 48 in the two weeks prior!). And in that same time span Souths have hit 30 or more a massive NINE times! Including the last two weeks against the side finishing first and second!

As mentioned earlier, Souths are peaking at the right time, and virtually all 17 of their players are at or near career best form (even old man Tuqiri is carving up!). For Canterbury I think it more like three (Graham, Lafai and Jackson) and perhaps you could make a case for Hodkinson and youngster Klemmer. I’m not really entertaining thoughts of a fairytale eighth to first finish for Canterbury or a choke by Souths. I think they’ll get the job done, and the price is too big. I mark Souths 1.30 chances, so the 1.42 available with the TAB is a solid overlay. You don’t really look like a hero tipping 1.42 shots, but value is value right? So I’ve loaded up at the shorts. And because of Canterbury’s ability to turn it into a grind, I find greater value in the moneyline over the handicap (although I do still have a strong lean to Souths -8). The other play I like is Souths 2nd half handicap, but there is not much of this market around at present (certainly not with the books who actually take a decent bet), and is more likely a live play at halftime, IF the game is close and particularly if Canterbury is actually leading at the break.

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