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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.

THE STORM

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.

THE BULLDOGS

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.

CONCLUSION

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 6 vs SOU 36 Report Stats
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
PAR 42 vs MAN 12 Report Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
NEW 24 vs NZW 14 Report Stats
GCT 18 vs WST 19 Report Stats
NQL 4 vs SYD 28 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 24 vs CBY 18 Report Stats
CRO 20 vs CBR 24 Report Stats
Mon, 09 MarTimes shown AEDT
STG 4 vs MEL 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
CBY 32 vs PAR 12 Report Stats
CRO 2 vs BRI 10 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 40 vs GCT Report Stats
MAN 24 vs MEL 22 Stats
NQL 14 vs NEW 16 Report Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 34 vs SYD 26 Stats
CBR 6 vs NZW 18 Report Stats
Mon, 16 MarTimes shown AEDT
WST 22 vs STG 4 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
MAN 12 vs CBY 16 Report Stats
BRI 44 vs NQL 22 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 29 vs PAR 16 Report Stats
CBR 20 vs STG 22 Report Stats
MEL 36 vs CRO 18 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 20 vs WST 6 Report Stats
GCT 18 vs NEW 20 Report Stats
Mon, 23 MarTimes shown AEDT
SYD 20 vs PEN 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
PAR 29 vs SOU 16 Report Stats
WST 24 vs CBY 25 Report Stats
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
NEW 26 vs PEN 14 Report Stats
CRO 22 vs GCT 24 Report Stats
STG 12 vs MAN 4 Report Stats
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 16 vs BRI 24 Report Stats
SYD 34 vs CBR 6 Report Stats
Mon, 30 MarTimes shown AEDT
NQL 18 vs MEL 17 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
CBY 17 vs SOU 18 Report Stats
GCT 16 vs BRI 26 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MAN 16 vs CBR 29 Report Stats
NEW vs STG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD 12 vs CRO 20 Report Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
PAR 6 vs WST 22 Report Stats
MEL 30 vs NZW 14 Report Stats
PEN 10 vs NQL 30 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 22 vs SYD 18 Report Stats
CRO 22 vs NEW 6 Report Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
PAR 16 vs GCT 38 Report Stats
NZW 32 vs WST 22 Report Stats
PEN 22 vs MAN 12 Report Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
CBR 10 vs MEL 14 Report Stats
STG 31 vs CBY 6 Report Stats
Mon, 13 AprTimes shown AEST
SOU 12 vs NQL 30 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY 28 vs MAN 16 Report Stats
STG 12 vs BRI 10 Report Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
GCT 32 vs PEN 6 Report Stats
NQL 28 vs NZW 24 Report Stats
MEL 17 vs SYD 16 Report Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
WST 22 vs CBR 30 Report Stats
NEW 22 vs PAR 28 Report Stats
Mon, 20 AprTimes shown AEST
CRO 18 vs SOU 10 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY 14 vs WST 38 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
NZW 28 vs GCT 32 Report Stats
NEW 24 vs NQL 26 Report Stats
SYD 12 vs STG 14 Report Stats
MEL 10 vs MAN 12 Stats
BRI 28 vs PAR 16 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
PEN 26 vs CRO 18 Stats
SOU 22 vs CBR 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI 8 vs PEN 5 Report Stats
SYD 36 vs WST 4 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
CBR 56 vs GCT 16 Stats
CRO 16 vs NZW 20 Stats
NQL 23 vs CBY 16 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
MAN 30 vs NEW 10 Stats
PAR 10 vs MEL 28 Stats
Mon, 11 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU 16 vs STG 10 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CBY 10 vs SYD 24 Stats
NQL 31 vs BRI 20 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
PAR 13 vs NZW 17 Report Stats
GCT 22 vs CRO 23 Report Stats
MEL 16 vs SOU 12 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
STG 32 vs CBR 18 Report Stats
NEW 22 vs WST 12 Stats
Mon, 18 MayTimes shown AEST
MAN 10 vs PEN 11 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU 14 vs PAR 12 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
WST vs NQL 8 Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CBR 34 vs CBY 41 Stats
Mon, 25 MayTimes shown AEST
NEW 18 vs BRI 31 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
PEN 20 vs PAR 26 Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
GCT 16 vs SOU 22 Report Stats
CBR 12 vs BRI 24 Stats
NQL 18 vs MAN 14 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
NZW 24 vs NEW 20 Stats
STG 42 vs CRO 6 Stats
Mon, 01 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD 24 vs MEL 2 Report Stats
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Round 13
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs MAN 19:35SUN
WST vs GCT 19:35VAS
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW vs CBR 15:00HS
SOU vs NZW 17:30nib Stadium
PEN vs MEL 19:30Pepper Stadium
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
CRO vs SYD 16:00Remondis Stadium
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
CBY vs STG 16:00ANZ
PAR vs NQL 19:00Pirtek Stadium
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Round 14
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
WST vs SOU 19:45ANZ
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW vs SYD 18:00MSS
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
GCT vs CBY 16:00Cbus Super Stadium
Mon, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs PAR 19:00AAMI
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Round 15
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
MAN vs WST 19:45BO
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CBR vs NQL 15:00GIO Stadium
GCT vs NZW 17:30Cbus Super Stadium
CBY vs PEN 19:30ANZ
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW vs CRO 14:00HS
MEL vs BRI 16:00AAMI
Mon, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
STG vs SYD 19:00AS
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs NEW 19:35SUN
SOU vs MAN 19:35ANZ
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW vs CBR 15:00MSS
NQL vs CRO 17:301300 Smiles Stadium
PAR vs STG 19:30Pirtek Stadium
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs GCT 14:00AS
WST vs PEN 16:00VAS
Mon, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
CBY vs MEL 19:00Belmore Sports Ground
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN vs SOU 19:45Pepper Stadium
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
STG vs NQL 19:30WIN
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN vs CRO 16:00BO
Mon, 06 JulTimes shown AEST
WST vs PAR 19:00ANZ
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Round 18
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR vs NEW 19:45GIO Stadium
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN vs SYD 17:30Pepper Stadium
CBY vs BRI 19:30ANZ
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW vs MEL 14:00MSS
CRO vs STG 16:00Remondis Stadium
Mon, 13 JulTimes shown AEST
GCT vs MAN 19:00Cbus Super Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
PAR vs CBY 19:35ANZ
MEL vs PEN 19:35AAMI
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR vs CRO 15:00GIO Stadium
NEW vs GCT 17:30HS
STG vs SOU 19:30SCG
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NZW 14:00AS
BRI vs WST 16:00SUN
Mon, 20 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN vs NQL 19:00BO
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Round 20
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
BRI vs GCT 19:35SUN
WST vs SYD 19:35ANZ
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW vs MAN 15:00MSS
SOU vs NEW 17:30ANZ
MEL vs STG 19:30AAMI
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN vs CBR 14:00Pepper Stadium
CBY vs CRO 16:00Belmore Sports Ground
Mon, 27 JulTimes shown AEST
NQL vs PAR 19:001300 Smiles Stadium
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Round 21
Thu, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW vs CRO 22:00MSS
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
NQL vs CBR 00:001300 Smiles Stadium
STG vs NEW 00:00Jubilee Oval
SOU vs PEN 00:00ANZ
SYD vs CBY 00:00AS
MAN vs BRI 00:00TBA
WST vs MEL 00:00VAS
GCT vs PAR 00:00Cbus Super Stadium
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Round 22
Thu, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW vs STG 22:00MSS
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CBY 00:00SUN
NEW vs SYD 00:00HS
CBR vs WST 00:00GIO Stadium
MAN vs SOU 00:00BO
CRO vs NQL 00:00Remondis Stadium
MEL vs GCT 00:00AAMI
PAR vs PEN 00:30TIO
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Thu, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STG 00:00SUN
CBY vs GCT 00:00TBA
NQL vs SOU 00:001300 Smiles Stadium
PEN vs NZW 00:00Pepper Stadium
CBR vs MAN 00:00GIO Stadium
SYD vs PAR 00:00AS
CRO vs MEL 00:00Remondis Stadium
WST vs NEW 00:00CSS
View All Fixtures
Round 24
Wed, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW vs NQL 22:00MSS
Thu, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
STG vs PEN 00:00WIN
SOU vs CBY 00:00ANZ
SYD vs BRI 00:00AS
MAN vs PAR 00:00BO
CRO vs WST 00:00Remondis Stadium
MEL vs NEW 00:00AAMI
GCT vs CBR 00:00Cbus Super Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 25
Thu, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
PAR vs CRO 00:00Pirtek Stadium
NEW vs CBY 00:00HS
SOU vs BRI 00:00AS
CBR vs PEN 00:00GIO Stadium
MAN vs SYD 00:00BO
MEL vs NQL 00:00AAMI
WST vs NZW 00:00CSS
GCT vs STG 00:00Cbus Super Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 26
Thu, 03 SepTimes shown AEST
BRI vs MEL 00:00SUN
CBY vs NZW 00:00ANZ
NQL vs GCT 00:001300 Smiles Stadium
STG vs WST 00:00ANZ
PAR vs CBR 00:00Pirtek Stadium
PEN vs NEW 00:00Pepper Stadium
SYD vs SOU 00:00AS
CRO vs MAN 00:00Remondis Stadium
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NRL Ladder 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D Pts
St George-Illawarra Dragons 11 8 3 0 18
Brisbane Broncos 12 9 3 0 18
North Queensland Cowboys 12 9 3 0 18
Melbourne Storm 11 7 4 0 16
Sydney Roosters 11 6 5 0 14
South Sydney Rabbitohs 12 7 5 0 14
Warriors 11 6 5 0 14
Penrith Panthers 11 5 6 0 12
View all
 
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