League Freaks 2011 National Rugby League Grand Final Preview

Grand Finals are life changing experiences.

For players, it is about that life long goal they have always had to reach the great pinnacle of the sport. It is a chance to live a childhood dream.

For coaches, it is about going over everything a million times in their heads. As their team walks out into the final on Sunday, they are still wondering if there was something they missed, have their really given their side everything they need to get the job done?

For fans, wow, what a day! I remember in 2003 I was so confident that Penrith would win. During the game I was so pumped up, so excited, I honestly thought I would have a heart attack, and I didn’t care!

When you experience a Grand Final win, there are few sweeter moments. When you lose a Grand Final, it is a horrible feeling.

That 80 minutes of Rugby League can have that massive effect on so many peoples lives is amazing. We all known that by Sunday night, a lot of people will feel gutted, humiliated, saddened, while the opposition will be taking part in the sweetest party of all.

So what do I think will happen in the 2011 NRL Grand Final?

Manly have always looked like they were focused on this game. Right throughout the season it felt like they were preparing for the Grand Final.

Des Hasler would feel like his team is prepared for anything right now. They have been through a lot this season at Manly and they look very strong going into this game.

For the Warriors, who would have thought they would be here a few months ago! They have been up, they have been down, they have looked down and out, and then they have looked like world beaters.

Some of their youngsters have found their feet at just the right time. That is what has propelled the Warriors to the 2011 Grand Final.

I always feel as though the Warriors are at their best when they go out and play with the mindset of “Lets be boring”. When they play the percentages, they get through their sets of six and they cut out all but the easiest offloads, they wear opposition teams down.

The Warriors best wins and when they don’t look to be doing anything special for the first 50 minutes of the match. Then, when they start to play a bit of football, they’ve worn the opposition down and they just can’t keep up.

I think the Warriors first game of the finals against Brisbane, and their last two games against the Tigers and Storm showed how they need to play this game.

When the Warriors keep things simple, play up the middle third of the field, they get Heremaia getting them moving forward from dummy half, then get the likes of Maloney, Johnson, Mateo and even Locke getting in close to the ruck and pressuring the oppositions defense, they walk up the field with ease!

The Manly Sea Eagles are going to bring it in defense. They’ve done it a few times this season, they will come out and bash the opposition with a brutal defensive game. I think we could see a contest similar to what we saw in the 2003 Grand Final where the Sydney Roosters decided to throw everything into the opposition defensively, and yet the Panthers pack went with them throwing themselves into the onslaught. Eventually, one side give, and in 2003, it was the Roosters who couldn’t stay with the Panthers fearless forward pack.

If the Sea Eagles go out and try and back this Warriors pack, they will have to bank on that tactic rattling the Warriors and forcing them to play some dumb football. It is a possibility. If you frustrate the Warriors, they can go back to bad habits.

However, if the Warriors just keep turning up and put their bodies on the line, the Sea Eagles could find themselves wearing down as the game draws on. This is a big Warriors pack, full of depth, and if the Sea Eagles can’t keep up with the opposition pack for the full 80 minutes, they could find themselves in a bit of trouble.

For Manly, Glenn Stewart will be a make or break addition to their lineup. I worry a little about his fitness, but at the same time his ball playing ability could be the deciding factor in who wins this game.

Anthony Watmough I think has the ability to make or break things for Manly. When he is on his game, he is hard to handle with the ball in his hands, but he also is a bit of a wide ball player, and when he is doing all that, geez he is a good player. His form has been pretty average lately and he has been struggling this week with illness, but if he has a great game, Manly will win.

For the Warriors, a lot of talk has been about Shaun Johnson and his ability. Look, he can break a game open and go the length of the field. His agility is only bettered by his speed, he is Bill Slater quick over 40 and doesn’t slow down over the full 100. I think however that James Maloney has to have a good game if the Warriors are any chance, particularly with his kicking game.

Lance Hohaia has had a strange season. He started at fullback, then ended up on the bench. Found himself playing reserve grade and has come back and the end of the season and added a bit of skill off the bench. He could be a really big factor in this Grand Final is he gets a run. especially if the Warriors start causing the Sea Eagles problems around the ruck. He can come on, get into dummy half and give them so many options around the middle of the field.

Steve Matai will be firmly in search and destroy mode and will be looking to put pressure on the Warriors halves and I would also guess Feleti Mateo. I will be like a brutal chess match on his side of the field. If Matai makes the wrong decision the Warriors will make the Sea Eagles pay.

Manu Vatuvei is either going to play great, or cost the Warriors the game. I personally wouldn’t take a player like that into a Grand Final. Yes, he gives them good go forward, but its not like the Warriors are short of big, strong wingers who can give them the same thing. Manly is going to test him out in this game, a lot rests on his shoulders. Worryingly, when the Warriors arrived at Sydney airport earlier this week Manu was already talking about how he was nervous. That for me is ominous.

Both sides have young halves pairings and its pretty amazing to see once you get to the Grand Final. Normally it is experienced halves that guide their teams to the Grand Final. It is hard to look at either halves pairing and really take issue with their lack of experience. They keep getting the job done, and that is all that matters really.

Both sides have great coaches that are well suited to these big games. I always think that when it comes to a Grand Final, a team needs a coach that is calm, who acts like they have been there before and who doesn’t give his team any reason to panic. It sounds simple, but some very experienced coaches has messed things up by winding their team up so much for a big occasion that they go into games and don’t play their natural game.

We shouldn’t see that happen here.

Ivan Cleary takes control of the Warriors for the last time before he heads to Penrith, while Des Hasler may be on his way to the Bulldogs if you listen to the rumours doing the rounds.

I always feel that Sydney clubs handle the NRL Grand Final week very well. Home city advantage is a big thing for simple things like having to attend Grand Final functions, training sessions at ANZ Stadium, even down to waking up in your own bed on the morning of the Grand Final.

You also have the familiarity of the atmosphere of Grand Final week to content with. Sydney teams get to see what happens every single year. Because so many Sydney teams have been in the Grand Final, they all know what they should and should not do to get through to the game itself without being burnt out.

Contract all of that to what the New Zealand Warriors have gone through this week. So much travel, so many flights, the crazy celebratory atmosphere in New Zealand that has followed them everywhere, then you have that arrival in Sydney, the realization of how big the occasion really is.

Keeping all of that in check is going to be so difficult!

Forget any stupid likes the media or Channel 9 in particular try to feed you in regards to what fans in Sydney think about this game. Unless you are a Manly Sea Eagles fan, ALL of Sydney wants the Warriors to win.

We don’t care about where they are from, about the trophy heading to New Zealand….none of that matters one bit! Hell, Sydney Rugby League fans love watching a club win the Grand Final for the first time. It is amazing to see a fan base getting their first taste of Grand Final success!

I think with all of Sydney behind them, if they can play smart, the New Zealand Warriors will get to taste Grand Final victory on Sunday evening. I think the Sea Eagles will take the game too them, but eventually the Warriors will wear them down and then their halves will finish the job.

I’m tipping the Warriors to beat the Sea Eagles by a scoreline of 32- 24.

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