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NRL Grand Final preview

Both winter codes conclude this weekend and the northern spectacle takes place at ANZ Stadium in Sydney between..... two Queensland teams!

He might only preview a few games for the year, but take note when he does. With the shrewd analysis of the big shebang, it's Chris Ryan, @imdabomb82.

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2015 NRL Grand Final Preview

The 2015 season brought 192 regular season matches, eight finals series games, another QLD Origin series victory and will culminate in what should be a pulsating Grand Final. The season had the predictable, in a Ricky Stuart team missing the finals series and a run of the mill drug scandal that leads to not much (the first and only time the Gold Coast Titans get mentioned in a GF preview!). Together with the more surprising, in that we got through the year without a bubbling incident, shock horror! Oh well, I guess we have the offseason for that, as well as Greg Bird getting up to whatever grub activities he normally does in his down time to keep the headlines rolling.

Three teams stood out all year long in the Roosters, Broncos and Cowboys, and fittingly we have two of those in the grand final in what shapes as a ripping encounter. Brisbane and N Qld have met three times this year, the first a Brisbane blowout win in round 4, then two high quality encounters in round 10 and Week 1 of the finals. The ledger says Brisbane 2-1, but I actually thought Brisbane was the better side in all three games, despite losing 31-20 in round 10. In fairness though there wasn’t too much between them in the last two games.

From a betting standpoint, in round 3 they were virtual equal favs, round 10 N Qld held sway at home at around $1.67, and three weeks ago Brisbane were solid favs, but actually drifted from $1.67 to touch $1.80. I don’t think we’ll see this repeated this week. At best prices, both teams really opened at $2, with the move being Brisbane into $1.90, purely because of Justin Hodges beating his lifting tackle charge. As a side note, I think the betting move just because of Hodges overstated his importance, particularly given the depth to cover him in Dale Copley, who can be a stud given extended playing time.

From a personal point of view, I hold a position on N Qld having backed them pre-season, but that’s not what dictates my betting for the Grand Final, and nor should it. I’ve backed Brisbane earlier in the week at evens, and recommend taking the $1.90 available, I believe it to be value, and also likely to shorten further. My assessed market to 100% is Brisbane $1.78, N Qld $2.28. And given the market has Brisbane at $1.90 (or better) we have a 6-7% overlay.

Brisbane’s side 1-13 is fantastic, skilled players in all positions, and a staunch defensive side, the only real weakness being Anthony Milford caught 1 on 1 in defence. N Qld do have the ability to exploit this, with Michael Morgan scoring four times in three games against Brisbane this year, including three near identical tries in round 10 when he beat Anthony Milford with speed and power on his outside. Given they play on the same side of the field, keep this in mind when looking at ‘anytime scorer’ markets as Michael Morgan will certainly look to attack this. As mentioned, the Broncos possess a super defensive unit, highlighted by a number of excellent one on one defenders. Keep an eye out for Matt Gillett, one of the best in the competition for mine, he has an uncanny ability when one out against a defender, in hitting them front on, wrapping up the ball and really knocking the stuffing out of his opponent. It’s an underrated part of his game. Brisbane lack a bit on the bench bar Jarrod Wallace, as they rely heavily on their starting unit, with Dodds, Ofahengue and Nikorima getting limited minutes for bench players. N Qld I must admit has surprised me in the finals series by really stepping up their game, particularly in the forwards. They won a lot of games in the regular season by coasting through them and never really playing ‘pedal to the metal’ style. For the whole year I’ve had their ‘ceiling’ below that of the Roosters and Broncos, who have produced several standout performances, and whilst they have closed the gap with impressive performances in three finals series encounters to date, I still rate what they can produce with their best performance (ceiling), below what Brisbane could produce at their very best. It’s no surprise that the talk on N Qld begins and ends with Johnathon Thurston, and there’s not much more I can really add, he’s a stud. There have been some murmurs about niggling injuries, but if you’re thinking about that you obviously didn’t watch the maestro last week, he was OUTSTANDING! I will add though that those small niggles may have some impact on his goal kicking, which has the potential to be a determining factor.

N Qld’s strength really lies with their small men, Thurston, Morgan, Coote and Granville. The funny thing about Coote and Morgan is they almost swap rolls in the redzone, with 5/8th Morgan looking to run much more, whilst fullback Coote plays more of a distributing role with his passing and kicking. Highlighted by the fact that Morgan has more than twice the number of tries, and Coote almost twice the number of kicks, it’s like they forget what number they have on their back! I think Granville’s game time is a little light on, and for N Qld I’d really rather see the pedestrian Rory Kostjaysn have a much more limited roll to expand Granville’s, but that’s unlikely to happen this week. Including the aforementioned Kostjaysn, the Cowboys bench is a solid yet unspectacular one. Ben Hannant has been a key contributor for them, but like Brisbane, no real impact players off the bench. The one area of weakness for N Qld is that their three-quarter-line lacks some ability to beat defenders one on one, they really need to be set up by their inside men. Whilst Brisbane has solid defensive centres, we have seen Jack Reed exposed last week by Blake Ferguson, and Justin Hodges can be beaten by more agile centres at this advanced stage of his career, like we saw Michael Jennings do in State of Origin. Unfortunately N Qld doesn’t have any players like this.

For some other betting angles, I think the total at around 37, is slightly low, but not enough of an edge to pull the trigger on a bet. If you do however like the unders, I’d wait until late to back it, as I expect this number to push up. The forecast for Sunday is extremely hot out west at ANZ Stadium, and you will likely see some higher scoring early games on Grand Final day, that can skew people’s view of the main game. This will still be a night game despite daylight savings having kicked in, however still reasonably warm at kick off. In try scoring markets, as previously mentioned, look to side with Michael Morgan. I’m less inclined to be with outside backs in this game given the scoring prowess of Anthony Milford, Ben Hunt, Michael Morgan and Jake Granville which can rob outside backs of scoring opportunities. In First Try Scorer markets I would honestly steer clear of this with bookmakers. For instance the TAB has sharpened their pencils this week in an attempt to provide better prices, and the market is still at 150% (it’s normally worse!), that’s outrageous. Having looked through the list, I believe EVERY SINGLE PLAYER to be unders. ZERO value. Betfair is currently at 121% and likely much tighter at kick off. So if you want a first try scorer bet, you are better off backing on Betfair or with a corporate who has money back offers if they don’t score first, but do score at some other point. The same can be said for the Clive Churchill Medal, set at close to 160%, that’s horrendous. Whilst pricing mistakes can be found in these markets, it is difficult in such a high profile game with the bookmaker having such a huge market percentage in their favour.

If you a Broncos or Cowboys fan, good luck for the game, if you’re a punter, side with Brisbane, and for everyone else, good luck filling in your time on the weekends for the next five months until the footy is back again!

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