The biggest game on the league calendar is nearly here as the North Queensland Cowboys prepare to take on Melbourne Storm at Sydney's ANZ Stadium tomorrow. James Matthey answers key questions on the decider.
What makes this final different?
For starters, North Queensland isn't supposed to be there. They weren't even supposed to make the finals but a slip-up from the Dragons meant the Cowboys had to put down their beers and pick up their boots again at a time of year they'd have been expecting to plan an off-season trip rather than playing footy. No team has won the comp from eighth spot - where the Cowboys finished - but there's a first time for everything. There's nothing new about seeing Melbourne in a grand final (this is their seventh in 12 years) but it will be the last time we catch a glimpse of halfback Cooper Cronk in the purple jersey because he's leaving the club at the end of the season.
Why should I cheer for the Storm?
In no particular order: Cameron Smith, Cronk and Billy Slater aren't just the best league players in Australia, they're also some of the best blokes. A win would be the icing on Smith's perfect season that already includes an Origin series win and Dally M triumph. It would give Melbourne something to cheer about if Richmond lose the AFL grand final today.
Why should I cheer for the Cowboys?
They're the underdogs; they've come all this way without injured superstar Johnathan Thurston (who is also one of the game's good guys, seen a couple of weeks ago picking up rubbish in the changeroom). The Storm have already won three premierships since 2009 (although two of those were stripped for rorting the salary cap - another reason to cheer for the Cowboys) and the fact that scenes at Townsville Airport will be epic should the team return home with the trophy.
Why will the Storm win?
Because they've got those three guys - Smith, Cronk and Slater. Smith won the Dally M Medal on Wednesday as the best player in the NRL, Cronk is the best game manager in the comp and Slater can set up tries or score himself from anywhere on the field. They've been playing together for years, not just for Melbourne but for Queensland and Australia too, and know how to win big games. They've been there and done it before. And Craig Bellamy is the best coach going around.
Why will the Cowboys win?
The Cowboys are on a hot streak, defying the odds each time this finals series. Momentum is a powerful thing in sport and North Queensland have it in spades after three stirring wins on the trot to make the decider. Coach Paul Green's men are full of confidence and have nothing to lose - a combination that could very well prove the perfect recipe for premiership success. Halfback Michael Morgan has been the game's most in-form player over the past six weeks and Kiwis lock Jason Taumalolo is the most destructive forward in the competition. If Morgan's kicking game can keep turning the Storm around, Taumalolo could break the game open in the final 20 minutes against a tiring Storm pack.
What time is the match?
Kick-off is scheduled for 9.15pm (New Zealand time). You can catch all the action on nzherald.co.nz's live blog, as well as live commentary on Radio Sport.Where should I put my money?North Queensland are paying as much as $5.50 to win by 1-12 points so if you think we're in for a repeat of the 2015 decider when they pipped Brisbane by a point you can have a flutter there. Cowboys wing Kyle Feldt is paying up to $17 to be the first tryscorer. But Melbourne flankers Suliasi Vunivalu ($7) and Josh Addo-Carr ($8) are both in the top five leading tryscorers in the NRL this year and are likely a safer bet to register the first four-pointer. Cameron Smith ($3) is the favourite for the Clive Churchill Medal but Morgan and Taumalolo (both $11) are good value for money if the Cowboys get up.