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Even stevens in a clash of the titans

On a high: The Storm's Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater celebrate a try in their win against the Manly Sea Eagles.

On a high: The Storm's Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater celebrate a try in their win against the Manly Sea Eagles. Photo: Getty Images

The Storm and the Bulldogs have made the grand final with vastly different game plans.

THE two best teams following the 26 home-and-away rounds of the premiership have safely negotiated the treacherous waters of semi-final football to make their way to the big show on NRL grand final day.

The thing I like about these two teams is they are different; and in their own way, quite unique.


They were far too good for Manly on Friday night. The Sea Eagles produced one of the worst finals performances I can remember. It was horrible. But then again, we said the same thing about South Sydney three weeks ago when they succumbed meekly in the first week of the finals.

The common denominator for both teams was they were playing Melbourne. Coincidence? I think not. Forget salary cap dramas and all the negative connotations that go with them; the Storm, under the leadership of coach Craig Bellamy, have been the No. 1 club in the NRL for the past seven seasons.

You know you are the best around when just about every other team in the competition tries to duplicate what you do. Often copied, but rarely reproduced, the Storm's style of football has withstood this most stringent test of time.

Melbourne's military-like, mechanical, meticulous and clinical form of rugby league excellence, not only wins a lot of games; it stands up under pressure; it teaches individuals within the team to stand up; it makes good players of average players; great players of good players; it turns great players into champions. Basically, it produces championship teams.

Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater have been with the coach the longest. It is no coincidence this is the best playmaker combination in the world; maybe even in history. But even these champion individuals will tell you they are nothing without the people and the systems around them.

The thing that seems to set the Storm apart from most other clubs is that every player who goes to play for them, young or old, buys into the Melbourne program. It is a culture, an attitude, a lifestyle, a way of life. It has got nothing to do with how much you pay them. Just because you pay a footballer more money, it won't make him a better player. It has more to do with the time and energy Bellamy invests in their character, their personality, their skills and technique. And they don't do things by half. Close enough is nowhere near good enough.


No coach has confronted the Storm in big games more than Bulldogs mentor Des Hasler. He knows them inside out. So much so that Hasler has learnt that trying to copy them usually results in consistently running second to them.

It is no surprise then that Hasler has created a new and unique style of football for the Bulldogs. There's an old saying: ''If you want to predict the future, you need to create it.'' Hasler has blown up many of the conventional rugby league theories of the past and produced a manner of attacking football that has taken the game to a new dimension.

I guarantee you that much of the Bulldogs' style of ball movement will be copied by every other coach in the NRL during this off-season's training camps; with the probable exception of Bellamy, of course.

Hasler realised that tackling techniques, gang-tackling, wrestling and grappling were threatening to paralyse modern-day football. To counter the dominance of well-drilled defences, Hasler created a style of attack that uses his forwards as the chief playmakers; and his halves simply as a link between the team's big men in the middle of the field and the athletic flyers down the edges.

The forwards no longer engage in a ''head-down-bum-up, ball-tucked-under-the-arm'' battle to make tough metres over the advantage line in the hope this will create time and space for their halves in which to operate. Instead, they line up side by side, with strategically placed width, in a constant rush of chain-passing that brings the whole team into motion on just about every play.

It is unique and effective, a system that grew in expertise and confidence as the season progressed. It will certainly test the Storm's defensive philosophy, which relies heavily on three-man tackling techniques to strangle opponents and slow down their opponents' attacking momentum.

While attack should not be a problem for the Bulldogs, Hasler will need to address a few of his side's defensive deficiencies that were given a work over by the bigger South Sydney players during Saturday night's contest. The Rabbitohs put up a real fight and had the minor premiers on the back foot for most of the first 35 minutes. Had they not lost their halfback Adam Reynolds just before half-time, things would have been a lot closer at the finish.

The productivity Souths enjoyed during this good period of the game will not be lost on Bellamy. He will dissect the Bulldogs' defensive line, isolate the players he needs to attack, and work them over until they crack.

Hasler will know they are coming. He will steel his men for the challenge. I love this stuff.


The fortnight's break leading into last weekend's preliminary finals proved highly beneficial to both clubs and presents them with the perfect preparation going into the title decider.

Both the Storm and Bulldogs had the result well in hand a long way from full-time and were able to enjoy the final minutes of their respective matches stress-free and high on life.

It is a wonderful feeling knowing you will be there on the last day of the season, playing for the right to hold up that trophy and head off on a victory lap with your teammates. This is why we play this great game.

With both clubs so well versed in the madness and mayhem that comes with grand final week, one can only assume the teams will be at their peak for the big occasion.

I doubt either side can expect their opponent to lose this grand final. You will have to come ready to win it for yourself. It is an even-money bet for mine. Good luck to both teams.

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NRL Season 2015

Round 1
Thu, 05 MarTimes shown AEDT
BRI 6vs SOU 36 Report Stats
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
PAR 42vs MAN 12 Report Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
NEW 24vs NZW 14 Report Stats
GCT 18vs WST 19 Report Stats
NQL 4vs SYD 28 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 24vs CBY 18 Report Stats
CRO 20vs CBR 24 Report Stats
Mon, 09 MarTimes shown AEDT
STG 4vs MEL 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
CBY 32vs PAR 12 Report Stats
CRO 2vs BRI 10 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 40vs GCT 0 Report Stats
MAN 24vs MEL 22 Stats
NQL 14vs NEW 16 Report Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 34vs SYD 26 Stats
CBR 6vs NZW 18 Report Stats
Mon, 16 MarTimes shown AEDT
WST 22vs STG 4 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
MAN 12vs CBY 16 Report Stats
BRI 44vs NQL 22 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 29vs PAR 16 Report Stats
CBR 20vs STG 22 Report Stats
MEL 36vs CRO 18 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 20vs WST 6 Report Stats
GCT 18vs NEW 20 Report Stats
Mon, 23 MarTimes shown AEDT
SYD 20vs PEN 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
PAR 29vs SOU 16 Report Stats
WST 24vs CBY 25 Report Stats
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
NEW 26vs PEN 14 Report Stats
CRO 22vs GCT 24 Report Stats
STG 12vs MAN 4 Report Stats
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 16vs BRI 24 Report Stats
SYD 34vs CBR 6 Report Stats
Mon, 30 MarTimes shown AEDT
NQL 18vs MEL 17 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
CBY 17vs SOU 18 Report Stats
GCT 16vs BRI 26 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MAN 16vs CBR 29 Report Stats
NEW 0vs STG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD 12vs CRO 20 Report Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
PAR 6vs WST 22 Report Stats
MEL 30vs NZW 14 Report Stats
PEN 10vs NQL 30 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 22vs SYD 18 Report Stats
CRO 22vs NEW 6 Report Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
PAR 16vs GCT 38 Report Stats
NZW 32vs WST 22 Report Stats
PEN 22vs MAN 12 Report Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
CBR 10vs MEL 14 Report Stats
STG 31vs CBY 6 Report Stats
Mon, 13 AprTimes shown AEST
SOU 12vs NQL 30 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY 28vs MAN 16 Report Stats
STG 12vs BRI 10 Report Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
GCT 32vs PEN 6 Report Stats
NQL 28vs NZW 24 Report Stats
MEL 17vs SYD 16 Report Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
WST 22vs CBR 30 Report Stats
NEW 22vs PAR 28 Report Stats
Mon, 20 AprTimes shown AEST
CRO 18vs SOU 10 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY 14vs WST 38 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
NZW 28vs GCT 32 Report Stats
NEW 24vs NQL 26 Report Stats
SYD 12vs STG 14 Report Stats
MEL 10vs MAN 12 Stats
BRI 28vs PAR 16 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
PEN 26vs CRO 18 Stats
SOU 22vs CBR 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI 8vs PEN 5 Report Stats
SYD 36vs WST 4 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
CBR 56vs GCT 16 Stats
CRO 16vs NZW 20 Stats
NQL 23vs CBY 16 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
MAN 30vs NEW 10 Stats
PAR 10vs MEL 28 Stats
Mon, 11 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU 16vs STG 10 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CBY 10vs SYD 24 Stats
NQL 31vs BRI 20 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
PAR 13vs NZW 17 Report Stats
GCT 22vs CRO 23 Report Stats
MEL 16vs SOU 12 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
STG 32vs CBR 18 Report Stats
NEW 22vs WST 12 Stats
Mon, 18 MayTimes shown AEST
MAN 10vs PEN 11 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU 14vs PAR 12 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
WST 0vs NQL 8 Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CBR 34vs CBY 41 Stats
Mon, 25 MayTimes shown AEST
NEW 18vs BRI 31 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
PEN 20vs PAR 26 Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
GCT 16vs SOU 22 Report Stats
CBR 12vs BRI 24 Stats
NQL 18vs MAN 14 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
NZW 24vs NEW 20 Stats
STG 42vs CRO 6 Stats
Mon, 01 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD 24vs MEL 2 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI 44vs MAN 10 Report Stats
WST 20vs GCT 27 Report Stats
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW 22vs CBR 44 Stats
SOU 36vs NZW 4 Stats
PEN 0vs MEL 20 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
CRO 10vs SYD 4 Stats
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
CBY 29vs STG 16 Stats
PAR 30vs NQL 36 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
WST 34vs SOU 6 Report Stats
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW 21vs SYD 25 Report Stats
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
GCT 28vs CBY 14 Stats
Mon, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL 22vs PAR 26 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
MAN 30vs WST 20 Report Stats
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CBR 20vs NQL 21 Report Stats
GCT 14vs NZW 36 Report Stats
CBY 24vs PEN 12 Report Stats
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW 28vs CRO 30 Report Stats
MEL 12vs BRI 14 Report Stats
Mon, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
STG 14vs SYD 19 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI 44vs NEW 22 Stats
SOU 20vs MAN 8 Report Stats
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW 30vs CBR 8 Stats
NQL 18vs CRO 24 Report Stats
PAR 16vs STG 12 Report Stats
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD 20vs GCT 10 Stats
WST 12vs PEN 35 Stats
Mon, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
CBY 20vs MEL 4 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN 20vs SOU 6 Report Stats
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
STG 12vs NQL 18 Report Stats
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN 28vs CRO 16 Report Stats
Mon, 06 JulTimes shown AEST
WST 16vs PAR 28 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR 36vs NEW 22 Stats
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN 4vs SYD 24 Stats
CBY 8vs BRI 16 Stats
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW 28vs MEL 14 Report Stats
CRO 28vs STG 8 Report Stats
Mon, 13 JulTimes shown AEST
GCT 6vs MAN 38 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
PAR 4vs CBY 28 Report Stats
MEL 52vs PEN 10 Report Stats
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR 20vs CRO 21 Report Stats
NEW 30vs GCT 2 Report Stats
STG 8vs SOU 24 Report Stats
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD 24vs NZW 0 Report Stats
BRI 42vs WST 16 Stats
Mon, 20 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN 12vs NQL 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
BRI 34vs GCT 0 Report Stats
WST 8vs SYD 33 Stats
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW 12vs MAN 32 Stats
MEL 22vs STG 4 Stats
SOU 52vs NEW 6 Stats
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN 24vs CBR 34 Report Stats
CBY 16vs CRO 18 Report Stats
Mon, 27 JulTimes shown AEST
NQL 46vs PAR 4 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD 38vs CBY 28 Report Stats
WST 34vs MEL 16 Report Stats
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW 14vs CRO 18 Stats
NQL 32vs CBR 24 Stats
MAN 44vs BRI 14 Stats
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
STG 46vs NEW 24 Stats
SOU 20vs PEN 16 Report Stats
Mon, 03 AugTimes shown AEST
GCT 24vs PAR 14 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 16vs CBY 18 Report Stats
MAN 28vs SOU 8 Stats
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW 0vs STG 36 Stats
CRO 30vs NQL 18 Stats
PAR 10vs PEN 4 Stats
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 36vs GCT 14 Report Stats
NEW 22vs SYD 38 Report Stats
Mon, 10 AugTimes shown AEST
CBR 18vs WST 20 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Thu, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
NQL 18vs SOU 31 Stats
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 32vs STG 6 Report Stats
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
WST 18vs NEW 24 Stats
PEN 24vs NZW 10 Stats
SYD 28vs PAR 18 Stats
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
CBR 24vs MAN 26 Stats
CBY 36vs GCT 14 Report Stats
Mon, 17 AugTimes shown AEST
CRO 2vs MEL 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 24
Thu, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
STG 19vs PEN 12 Report Stats
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
SOU 18vs CBY 32 Report Stats
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
CRO 40vs WST 18 Report Stats
NZW 16vs NQL 50 Report Stats
SYD 12vs BRI 10 Report Stats
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
GCT 28vs CBR 12 Stats
MAN 16vs PAR 20 Report Stats
Mon, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 6vs NEW 20 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 25
Thu, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
SOU 12vs BRI 47 Report Stats
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
MAN 10vs SYD 46 Report Stats
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
PAR 28vs CRO 35 Stats
NEW 18vs CBY 20 Stats
MEL 14vs NQL 6 Report Stats
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
WST 50vs NZW 16 Report Stats
GCT 28vs STG 26 Stats
Mon, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
CBR 34vs PEN 18 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 26
Thu, 03 SepTimes shown AEST
BRI 8vs MEL 15 Report Stats
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 30vs SOU 0 Report Stats
Sat, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
PEN 30vs NEW 12 Stats
STG 32vs WST 30 Stats
NQL 42vs GCT 12 Stats
Sun, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
PAR 24vs CBR 28 Stats
CRO 12vs MAN 14 Stats
CBY 26vs NZW 22 Stats
View All Fixtures
Telstra Premiership Finals Round 1
Fri, 11 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 18vs MEL 20 Report Stats
Sat, 12 SepTimes shown AEST
CBY 11vs STG 10 Report Stats
BRI 16vs NQL 12 Report Stats
Sun, 13 SepTimes shown AEST
CRO 28vs SOU 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Telstra Premiership Finals Round 2
Fri, 18 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 38vs CBY 12 Report Stats
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
NQL 39vs CRO 0 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Telstra Premiership Finals Round 3
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
BRI 31vs SYD 12 Stats
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
MEL 12vs NQL 32 Stats
View All Fixtures
Telstra Premiership Finals Round 4
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEDT
BRI 16vs NQL 17 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
NRL Ladder 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D Pts
Sydney Roosters 24 18 6 0 40
Brisbane Broncos 24 17 7 0 38
North Queensland Cowboys 24 17 7 0 38
Melbourne Storm 24 14 10 0 32
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 24 14 10 0 32
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 24 14 10 0 32
South Sydney Rabbitohs 24 13 11 0 30
St George-Illawarra Dragons 24 12 12 0 28
View all

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