Key NRL grand final match-ups
KEY MATCH-UPS FOR NRL GRAND FINAL BETWEEN THE SYDNEY ROOSTERS AND MELBOURNE
Fullback – JAMES TEDESCO (Roosters) v BILLY SLATER (Melbourne)
There’s not much Tedesco hasn’t done in his stellar first year at the Roosters. He took out the Brad Fittler Medal for his NSW star turn and topped the NRL in tackle busts. But before taking over the Kangaroos No.1 jersey, Tedesco faces the ultimate test on Sunday lining up against arguably the game’s greatest fullback. The stage is set for the retiring Billy Slater to end his glittering 16-season career with a title after controversially being cleared of a shoulder charge.
Halfback – COOPER CRONK (Roosters) v BRODIE CROFT (Melbourne)
Cronk has arguably the most talked-about joint in Australia as he battles to overcome a serious shoulder injury and line up against his former club Melbourne. If he pulls off a medical miracle, the No.7’s next trick will be to dodge Storm traffic and overcome former understudy “Cronk clone” Croft in a classic master-versus-apprentice showdown. Croft has finally earned the Storm No.7 jersey after a season-long battle with Jahrome Hughes and Ryley Jacks.
Hooker – JAKE FRIEND (Roosters) v CAMERON SMITH (Melbourne)
Much has been made of NRL great Smith before the season decider – and rightly so. The veteran rake will add yet another accolade when he overtakes Darren Lockyer as the player with the most finals games (36) and is no doubt yearning to win a third legitimate title with the Storm. Yet co-captain Friend is just as integral to the Roosters’ success. The NRL’s top tackler has arguably been more effective from dummy-half than Smith this year, setting up seven tries compared with the Storm captain’s four. Adding intrigue is whether Smith carries on after he left the retirement door ajar if the Storm won. His longtime representative understudy will be out to spoil the party.
Centres – LATRELL MITCHELL v WILL CHAMBERS
Mitchell appears primed to wreak havoc after being forced to sweat on a grand final berth when sidelined last week for a crusher tackle ban. That’s not good news for Chambers. The Storm’s Queensland centre was terrorised by Mitchell in Origin this year as NSW claimed a rare series win. Chambers is still one of the game’s premier defensive centres but will need to find another gear against the NRL superstar.
Front-row – JARED WAEREA-HARGREAVES v JESSE BROMWICH
Waerea-Hargreaves won’t need to call out Bromwich to ensure a titanic battle up front on Sunday night. While Waerea-Hargreaves has had a poor record with targeting rivals in the past, the Kiwi giant hasn’t had to say a word before the season decider after sounding his intentions by carrying the Roosters pack in the absence of suspended firebrand Dylan Napa. Bromwich won’t need much motivation to again inspire in his fourth grand final for Melbourne.
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