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Storm must pick big pack to counter Manly brawn

Geoff Toovey ... intense operator.

Geoff Toovey ... intense operator. Photo: Quentin Jones

Two months ago, none of the other semi-final-bound teams wanted to meet the Bulldogs in the grand final.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy told me at the time: ''If the NRL played the grand final now, Canterbury would win easily. They are a level above everyone.''

Des Hasler's boys were playing a brutally brilliant style, ruthless efficiency mixed with daring, a cross between the grit of the old Bulldogs and the glitz of the new Canterbury.

One month ago, when the Bulldogs were thrashed 34-6 by the Raiders, coaches were tipping the Sea Eagles to make their second successive grand final.

They were on a six-match winning streak and playing the defiant, almost contemptuous style of reigning premiers. Their key players from last year's premiership team seemed hungry for another title.

However, two weeks ago, following the Sea Eagles' semi-final loss to the Bulldogs, the Cowboys suddenly appeared on the horizon.

The Storm's assistant coaches were tracking their rope-'em-in-and-gallop-away style, and were impressed with fullback Matt Bowen, who was playing the best football of his career.

But instead of meeting the North Queensland team in Friday night's preliminary final in Melbourne, the Storm will now face their old nemeses, the Sea Eagles, following Manly's 22-12 victory over the Cowboys at the weekend.

And the Bulldogs will play South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night, following the Rabbitohs' 38-16 win over Canberra.

The winner of the Bulldogs-Rabbitohs preliminary final will return to the venue to play the Melbourne-Manly victor in the last NRL game of the year on the last day of September.

Manly are battle-hardened and know how to win crucial games. They do not fear Melbourne.

Last year, the Sea Eagles anticipated playing them in the grand final, having accounted for the Cowboys in the preliminary final with slightly more ease than they did on Friday night.

Melbourne and Manly met at Brookvale in the second-last round last year, and it was a bloody, bitter battle, with the Sea Eagles convinced they had the measure of Bellamy's men.

Manly, then coached by Hasler, were set to duplicate the intimidating, physically dominating, streetfight style that worked so well and resulted in the Storm's best second/front-row forward, Adam Blair, being suspended.

But the Storm were surprisingly beaten in their preliminary final by a big, relatively error-free Warriors team, and the third grand final in five years between these two warring clubs did not eventuate.

They are now on the same side of the draw, and Bellamy must select a big pack and decide on tactics to counter the Sea Eagles' conviction they can outmuscle Melbourne.

While the Manly forwards relish the opportunity of getting into a gang fight with Melbourne, their new coach, Geoff Toovey, might not adopt the same game plan.

The Sea Eagles demonstrated their versatility against the Cowboys, with some plays seeming ad lib, even bordering on bizarre.

They moved the ball from a tap penalty so wide to the right, their winger risked being recruited by local member Tony Abbott.

It's instructive to recall the last time the teams met, a round 15 match at Brookvale, won 26-22 by the Storm. At the post-game press conference, Toovey was both intense and incensed, critical of the Storm's ruck defence and looking vengeful.

Two weeks earlier, the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs had played a match where Canterbury reversed a round-six win by Souths.

Despite the closeness of the scores (23-18 and 20-10 respectively), the Bulldogs would prefer to play the Rabbitohs than the Raiders.

It's not so much Canterbury's memory of that 34-6 loss only three weeks ago. Souths surge and fade in games. They will not welcome a high-intensity, end-to-end, no-rest, up-tempo skillathon.

Canterbury can play that style of football and Hasler has all the sports science weaponry to compensate for his team having had a week's break.

The low penalty count in the semi-finals won't suit Souths. Sure, it was only 4-4 against Canberra but the Raiders had stage fright.

The Bulldogs will keep the ball in play, and if it's an eight-penalty game, they should win.

Manly and Melbourne also prefer a no-stoppage game, but the 80 minutes of hell defence could leave the victors exhausted for the big dance on September 30.

4 comments so far

  • Last year Manly beat the Cowboys in the Qualifying Final, not the Preliminary Final.

    Commenter
    nitabita
    Date and time
    September 17, 2012, 7:45AM
    • Manly have had the wood on Storm like no other team. Should they win and play the dogs they should have learn't from losing to the dogs only 2 weeks ago. On that basis are we back to saying Manly are the team to beat again! I think yes.

      The Storms big 3 could easily be called the big 4 the way Ryan Hoffman has been playing.

      And in the U20s we have potentially a grand final of 7 v 8 ironically in the year the finals format changed!

      I'd like to see an article about each teams credentials as far as premierships go. I know that for Souths Inglis and Crocker have won premierships but who else and how few dogs premiership players are within their ranks? With the Storms clean out do they have as many ring wearers as you might assume? We're back to Manly as having the most I believe.....

      Commenter
      Matt
      Location
      Stanwell
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 1:34PM
      • Beware when Roy Masters is talking up (or respectfully about) Manly - he hasn't fallen off a donkey on the road to Damascus. Melbourne go into Friday night as clear favourites - they have the big two and the big one, Cameron Smith, great forwards - particularly Ryan Hoffman and an ineffable grinding structure and they will wrestle the bejaysus out of Manly. And if Manly win, it could just be their GF, emotionally and physically. That's Manly's radar to fly under if you please Roy.

        Commenter
        Niall
        Location
        Darwin
        Date and time
        September 17, 2012, 8:06PM
        • How many packs do you think we have, Roy - a big one, a small one and a few others besides?

          We could just pick the pack the dominated the Eagles at their place just two months ago - only a close game due to the video refs being in an odd mood that night.

          And most nights since, come to mention it.

          Commenter
          Crompy
          Location
          Hobart
          Date and time
          September 18, 2012, 10:12PM

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