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NRL Grand Final preview II

Always handy to have a second opinion when it comes to investing on the highest-profile match of the season. Chris Ryan, @imdabomb82, returns for his annual contribution to the blog, a deeper analysis of the NRL Grand Final.

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NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final
Melbourne v Cronulla
ANZ Stadium
Sunday, October 2, 1915 AEST, 1015 BST


26 regular season rounds dusted. Three finals series weeks in the bin. 80 minutes left to decide the NRL premiership. Whilst Canberra finished the season like a train, we are left with what were the two best teams for the most part of the NRL season. We have the perennially contending, wrestling, salary cap cheating, Mexicans, the Melbourne Storm, up against the butt of the jokes, non-winning, fairy-tale side in the Sharks. Lots of neutrals play a head versus heart battle in who to go for, the Cinderella story in Cronulla, or do you cheer against them so the Harold Holt jokes can live on. And really that’s how most people frame it, you are either cheering for Cronulla or against Cronulla, cos hell, no one really wants to cheer for Melbourne. Unless you’re betting on it of course…

When we start to assess this game we look at some of the rather boring semantics first. It’s scheduled to kick-off at 7.15pm, so we are looking at a complete night game. Sunday does mark the start of daylight savings, but with sunset due to fall around 7pm, this game will be played completely in night time conditions, so we put that in the memory bank, particularly for totals. No rain is forecast, however it is due to be hotter than any day in the recently-completed September, but given this is a night game, the warmth likely won’t be a factor. Although note, with 27 degrees forecast, it may play more of a factor in the two early grand finals if you are betting on those, particularly the totals. Naturally the game is at ANZ Stadium, it might be in Cronulla’s home town, but it’s a virtual neutral game. Team records at the ground I find to be mostly meaningless, so is not something I focus on.

They’ve played twice this year, way back in round 4 when Cronulla won 14-6, in what frankly was a garbage game from both sides, lacking in skill or intensity, although it did turn out to be the start of the Sharks’ long unbeaten run. Cronulla lined up marginal two-point favourites, but one of the key aspects was how much the market loved the unders (and was proven correct) pushing the total from 37.5 all the way down to 34. And of course the better reference guide for this game was the round 26 game, just four weeks ago. It was being played for the minor premiership, hence the effort and desire was there from both sides. Melbourne dominated from the outset, winning 26-6 and my main memory from that game was Melbourne’s line speed in defence. They really amped it up from a normal game, and it worried Cronulla. That in essence is how I mark this game, in that Melbourne has another gear to get to, that Cronulla doesn’t have. Melbourne will bring that line speed and intensity to the Grand Final, and no doubt Cronulla will attempt to match, or best them in that regard too, but I’m less convinced that they can. Melbourne’s peak performances for the year have outstripped Cronulla’s, and have been more recent too, so I find Melbourne’s ceiling to be much higher.

With the unpredictability of Ben Barba and Andrew Fifita, Cronulla has an X-factor that Melbourne probably doesn’t, and their upside for points is likely higher. However, Cronulla likes scoring a lot through their wings of Holmes and Feki, and I think this is a bad matchup from a Cronulla point of view. Melbourne does an excellent job in defence of not biting on decoy runs, sliding out, herding the opposition to the sideline and giving the opposing wingers very little room to move. If Cronulla are to win, I think they need to have a few more players like Luke Lewis and Jack Bird cutting back against the grain to test the inside defenders of the Storm. But bar Lewis and Fifita, Cronulla has very little try scoring through the forwards, so if scoring through the wingers is their main focus, that may prove problematical.

We all know how Melbourne is going to play, they are going to grind it down, superstars Cronk and Smith are going to control the game, and likely field position. And whilst they have the ability to blow any team away, they likely won’t do that, and prefer to win in a low scorer. And for as many benefits as that has for Melbourne, it also means that Cronulla can likely always stay in the game, only 4-6 points behind, absolutely giving themselves a chance to win the game in the last 10 minutes.

A couple of minor points when pricing this market up, with the change in golden point to now 10 minutes extra time during the final series, it has two differences. Field goals in extra time are less likely to win a game than before (see N Qld v Brisbane week two of the finals) so the difference between taking -0.5 to -1.5 lines (or backing a team outright instead of -1.5) is slightly less. Also totals should ever so slightly increase, as now in extra time there is a much better chance of more than one point being scored. These differences are both very small, but just a couple of small nuances to be aware of when betting.

Referees are not a point I talk about often when pricing games up, and something I started largely ignoring when the NRL changed from one referee to two a few years back, as it became more difficult for one referee to stamp his style on a game as much. But Ben Cummins who is officiating the decider (with Matt Cecchin) has a tendency to put away his whistle every now and again in big games, allowing players to hang on in the tackle more and encroach on the 10m. That lends to more of a grinding game (likely to suit Melbourne more) but more so keeps the points total down.

My assessed market for this game to 100% is Melbourne 1.75 Cronulla 2.33. So I’m a Melbourne backer at the 1.85, but it’s not a massive overlay, so I couldn’t recommend a bet at 1.80 and lower.

My total line sits at 35, which currently makes no bet, but if the market went crazy with the unders and pushed it down to 33.5, and it remained dry, I would likely be contrarian in this scenario and take the overs as the number bottomed out.

My advice if you wanted to have an ever popular first try scorer bet is don’t. The corporate bookmakers bet a ridiculous percentage on these markets, really ripping their customers off, your dollars are better spent elsewhere!

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