NRL: Five Grand Final week storylines

Our final two combatants have booked their place in the NRL Grand Final, but what will we be talking about across the next seven days in the lead up to the big one?

Picture credit: Cameron Spencer

They finished the regular season as one and two on the NRL ladder and after a gruelling finals series, the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters will square off in the Grand Final on Sunday, September 30th.

As ever, the week leading into the Grand Final will be one of tense excitement and nerves for the two fanbases lucky enough to have their side make it through while the neutrals will be picking through the wreckage and two fairly unpopular teams in a bid to decide where their interests lay on Sunday afternoon.

Coverage of the Grand Final will also hit fever pitch, with journos, scribes and even one or two hack crisis merchants combing through every possible story and talking point. With that in mind, here are five storylines I expect will dominate media coverage and heated pub discussions over the next week.

  1. 1 The judiciary

    Ok, so no points for guessing where this one was going to start.

    With two high-profile stars, Billy Slater and Jake Friend, set to front the judiciary and do their best to avoid missing one of the biggest and best days of their lives, debate will rage over whether Slater's shoulder charge and Friend's lifting tackle should be enough to sideline them on Grand Final Sunday.

    The Melbourne Storm have drafted in top-shelf lawyer Nick Ghabar in their bid to ensure Slater plays in the final before hanging up the boots on a wonderful and glittering career.

    Ghabar has become the man in these sort of situations having helped Justin Hodges clear his name and make it through to the 2015 Grand Final for the Brisbane Broncos.

    With youngster Jahrome Hughes the likely replacement for Slater, plenty hinges on Melbourne's ability to help their star fullback overcome the charge and take the field next weekend.

    Jake Friend also faces a nervous wait after he was charged for a grade one dangerous throw on South Sydney star Greg Inglis early in their win over the Rabbitohs.

    Friend's good record at the judiciary could aid his cause though both players face a nervous wait.

  2. 2 Cooper Cronk's fitness

    The sight of veteran playmaker Cooper Cronk clutching an injured shoulder as their side overcame the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday night will have filled Roosters fans with dread.

    News came through on Sunday morning that the former Storm halfback suffered a severe rotator cuff injury but had not been ruled out of taking his place in the halves alongside Luke Keary next weekend.

    Cronk left the Storm at the end of 2017 and controversially linked up with the Roosters and would relish the chance to cap a magical career with Grand Final glory against his former employers and the man he was once thought to be best mates with, Cameron Smith.

    Smith and Cronk have reportedly had a falling out since his departure to the Bondi club, so the added pressure of a Grand Final week build up would make for some interesting developments.

    Much respected Twitter analyst, the NRL Physio said the hope for Cronk is that the "severe rotator cuff injury is only a partial tear, or only involves one of the four rotator cuff muscles."

    "Even in that scenario, the function of his shoulder would be diminished. Very tough week ahead for Cronk and the Roosters," he continued in a tweet posted Sunday morning.

  3. 3 Neutrals forced to pick between two unpopular sides

    I'm not having a swipe at either club or the fanbases, but even the briefest of glances across social media show both the Roosters and Storm are fairly unpopular amongst your average NRL fan.

    Given picking a side to barrack for one the big day is as Australian as meat pies and Holden utes when your team isn't playing in the Grand Final, it will be a tough week for fans of the other 14 teams as they decide which of these two sides is worthy of their support on Sunday afternoon.

    Melbourne have long held a mantle as one of the more unpopular teams around the league with their consistent success, the famous salary cap rort and questionable on-field tackling techniques making it easy to dislike the Victorian club.

    On the other hand, the cash-rich Roosters, led by Nick Politis have always held their own space as a team other fans, particularly those in Sydney don't like.

    The ability to throw big money at marquee signings regularly has always left a bad taste in the mouth further west of Sydney than, say Paddington!

    Full credit to both sides though, it should be a great contest.

  4. 4 Bashing the crisis merchants

    While the hope is that those who have shown their consistent disregard for the game with the way they cover it will sheath their swords for the biggest week of the year, it's unfair to expect talking puppets like Buzz Rothfield, Paul Crawley, Paul Kent, Dean Ritchie et al to move away from their one-trick show and let the footy do the talking.

    My only hope is that people out there who love their footy and are sick to death of the way it is covered by certain types don't let up the heat and stop pushing back this week.

    It has been amazing to see the backlash that is finally starting to catch up with these professional crisis merchants and it will be great if they are continually shot down across the next seven days as well.

    Rugby league is far from a perfect game, but we sure do have a great game and this is the time to sit back, reflect on another season of good footy and get ready for one last big blowout hurrah to end the campaign.

  5. 5 Where are we going to watch the game?

    While ANZ Stadium will be a typical sell-out for the big dance, there will be more than just the traditional Grand Final day Channel Nine coverage to choose from for those of us who will be stuck on the lounge, at a barbecue or crammed into a bar.

    Usually, the full day would be covered on Fox Sports, with lower grades front and centre before the final itself was covered exclusively by free-to-air broadcaster Channel Nine, but this year both broadcasters will have the big game and fans will have the choice of siding with Rabs Warren, Phil Gould and Peter Sterling amongst others on Nine or Warren Smith and an ensemble cast featuring Greg Alexander, Yvonne Sampson and a raft of ex-NRL stars.

    I'm not sure which way I'll go yet, but a choice is always better than none!

    Which storylines will you be talking about this week? Let us know in the comments below.

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