NRL GRAND FINAL KEY MATCH-UPS:
VALENTINE HOLMES (Sharks) v SULIASI VUNIVALU (Storm)
They were neck and neck all year, together with Canberra’s Jordan Rapana, for top tryscoring honours and now they’ll go toe-to-toe on the biggest stage. Holmes tops the list at Cronulla with 19 on the right edge, while Vunivalu’s 23 on the left edge broke former Storm sensation Israel Folau’s record for most tries in an NRL season by a rookie.
JAMES MALONEY (Sharks) v COOPER CRONK (Storm)
They’ll be wearing different numbers but there’s no doubting both players are the No.1 orchestrators for their teams in good-ball situations. Cronk’s numbers wipe the floor with Maloney’s in 2016, with the Storm general ahead on try assists (29 to 10), line break assists (22 to 10), tries (12 to seven) and tackle breaks (30 to 24).
MICHAEL ENNIS (Sharks) v CAMERON SMITH (Storm)
The NRL’s serial pest versus the game’s elder statesman. The emotion of Ennis’ farewell from the game will dominate talk in the build-up, although it will be countered by Smith’s trademark coolness under pressure. Ennis’ in-your-face style is in direct contrast to Smith’s calculated demeanour, and whoever dominates will be a telling factor in determining the winner.
ANDREW FIFITA (Sharks) v JESSE BROMWICH (Storm)
Another match-up of contrasts, with Fifita’s unorthodox front-row play baring little similarity to Bromwich’s effective footwork close to the line. Either way, both have provide the go-forward impetus for their respective teams. Fifita shades Bromwich for x-factor, highlighted by his superior tackle breaks (90 to 42) and offloads (66 to 43).
BEN BARBA (Sharks) v CAMERON MUNSTER (Storm)
The numbers alone make for tantalising reading, and set the scene for either to be a possible game-breaker. Barba edges Munster in tries (15 to 4) and try assists (21 to 12), but trails in line break assists (19 to 23) and tackle busts (97 to 114). Barba was once considered the heir to Billy Slater’s Queensland jersey, while Munster has done an outstanding job for the Storm in his absence.