After six months of blood, sweat and tears, the NRL season concludes with tonight’s Grand Final between Sydney Roosters and Manly Sea Eagles at ANZ Stadium. This will be the fourth encounter between these two sides in 2013, the Roosters leading the head to head 3-0. Each of those victories has been set up by incredible defensive performances – the Sea Eagles have not scored a point in the first half of any of the three matches this season.
Manly have the experience of being in their fourth Grand Final in seven years to draw upon, and they have six players in tonight’s squad who have played in the previous three. The Sea Eagles have had a tough month of finals football and the question will be asked about whether they can lift themselves again. Those who doubt their ability to do that should go back and watch last week’s Preliminary Final against Souths and see how they responded to falling 14-0 behind.
Richie Fa’aoso has been ruled out of the Manly side after he fractured vertebrae in his neck in last week’s Preliminary Final. After a rest period of three months a decision will then be made on his playing future. David Gower is the beneficiary of an unexpected call up to the Grand Final bench.
The Roosters have also had a fairly settled week, with the only notable concern being illness affecting Mitchell Pearce on Monday. Sonny Bill Williams was ill in the lead up to the Preliminary Final, yet he still walked away with the man of the match honours. A fitter and stronger Williams is a daunting prospect for the Sea Eagles to face. The Roosters are also hoping to welcome back Luke O’Donnell and Boyd Cordner from injury, although newly crowned Dally M Coach of the Year Trent Robinson may be hesitant to include multiple players who are not at full fitness.
Looking at the two teams it is hard to pick a clear winner. The Roosters look to have a stronger frontline, whereas Manly probably have the best collection of backs in the competition. However, those weapons have not been enough for the Sea Eagles to do enough on the scoreboard in those three previous matches this year.
A quick check around the media coverage shows many pundits tipping the Roosters by six points or less. All things considered that is probably a fair assessment, but when a tip is made based on just a single try it shows how evenly matched these two sides are. This has all the makings of another war of attrition.
NRL Grand Final
Sunday 6th October, ANZ Stadium Homebush 19:15
Sydney Roosters v Manly Sea Eagles