After the NRL’s preliminary finals matches on the weekend the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters will meet in the grand final this Sunday. These two teams finished first and second on the ladder, and have gone undefeated through the finals series, so they are clearly the two best sides in a very close season – and they looked it on Friday and Saturday night.
On Friday the Storm gave the Cronulla Sharks a thrashing, winning the game 20-6 and giving themselves the opportunity to defend their 2017 premiership title. The match was marred, however, by a try saving (alleged) shoulder charge from Billy Slater which threatens to see him suspended from the grand final – and his last match.
The decision to charge Slater has attracted a great deal of controversy, since that his tackle was not dangerous. However, given that the NRL has a zero tolerance policy on shoulder charges they had little choice as it seems clear that this was what happened. Even a low-grade shoulder charge carries a minimum suspension, so Slater will miss the final if he is found guilty at the judiciary tonight.
The Saturday night blockbuster between the Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs never really lived up to expectations, turning into a grind. The Bunnies only managed to score off penalty goals, while the Roosters could score tries but not convert them in the absence of suspended goal kicker Latrell Mitchell (who will return for the big dance).
Star Sydney recruit Cooper Cronk also looked to be playing with one arm after copping several heavy blows to the shoulder. It has been confirmed that he suffered a rotator cuff injury, and will be at long odds to play in the final.
The prospect of a Roosters-Storm grand final with neither Cronk nor Slater playing seems unthinkable, but is growing more and more likely.