Storm v Cowboys NRL Grand Final has it all

Depending which corner you're in, Sunday's NRL Grand Final is all about Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and redemption and validation for the Melbourne Storm.

 

Or Michael Morgan, Jason Taumalolo and history-defying premiership glory for the North Queensland Cowboys.

For the neutrals, it's a grand final with everything - except, of course, a Sydney team for only the third time in 110 years, or a NSW State of Origin player for the first time in 20 years.

There's sub-plots and storylines everywhere.

Whoever wins could be decided by these two superstars. Pic: Getty

First against eighth for the first time.

The minor premiers against the 100-1 pre-finals underdogs.

Master mentor Craig Bellamy versus emerging super coach Paul Green.

Morgan versus Cameron Munster for Johnathan Thurston's vacant Australian No.6 Test jumper.

That is if Morgan hasn't already convinced Mal Meninga with his control of the Cowboys' charge in the absence of their leader Thurston and fellow injured co-captain Matt Scott.

After three straight weeks of finals upsets, half of the Cowboys are playing injured. Or in John Asiata's case, with a broken hand.

But with Morgan calling the shots and the inspirational Taumalolo tearing opposition packs apart, the Cowboys now threaten to break Storm hearts.

With just four defeats this season, and none in their past nine outings, Melbourne are overwhelming favourites.

Victory would continue what may end up as the most successful individual season ever for Smith, the newly-crowned Dally M Medallist who seemingly sets records with every game he plays.

If not the greatest individual season, it's certainly the Storm, Queensland and Australian captain's last alongside Sydney-bound Cronk and maybe Slater too.

Morgan is in-form and on fire. Pic: Getty

It's the end of an era and Smith, Cronk, Slater and Bellamy are desperate to crown the Storm's decade of dominance with a second title from an extraordinary seven grand finals in 10 years.

While they may say otherwise publicly, rest assured that privately the fiercely-competitive and proud quartet crave atonement for last year's painful grand final loss to Cronulla.

History can never remove Melbourne's 2007 and 2009 grand final triumphs over Manly and Parramatta, but the record books also show Bellamy and Melbourne's all-conquering spine still only possess one premiership ring each, in 2012, from one of rugby league's true dynasties - due to the club's salary-cap breaches.

Imagine this.

Slater will also have a big bearing on the match. Pic: Getty

If the Cowboys conjure one last spirited finals upset, a dozen North Queensland players - including unsung heroes like Kane Linnett, Scott Bolton and Ethan Lowe rather than superstars Slater, Cronk and Smith - will be dual premiership winners.

That would be two titles for the Cowboys in three seasons - and none for the Storm in five.

Such an unpalatable prospect doesn't bear thinking about for Bellamy and his trio of all-time greats.

Talk about grand final pressure. It's all on one team.

"Do you think it's on us?" Thurston chuckled, after once again cleaning up the North Queensland dressing shed after the Cowboys cleaned up the Sydney Roosters in the preliminary final.

Thurston said such selfless toil was symbolic of the culture cultivated by Green since his arrival at the club in 2014.

A crafty former representative No.7, Green has not only brought skill and tactical smarts to the Cowboys but also instilled an unshakeable belief among his troops through sheer endeavour and will.

As Morgan said, the Cowboys' charge to within one win of becoming the first-ever champions from eighth spot has been anything but a cliched fairytale.

"We've worked hard while doing it. It hasn't just been a big fairytale when things have just gone our way for no reason," he said.

Excuses are not tolerated.

Nor have they been needed during the Cowboys' gallant finals run as the unfancied underdogs have largely enjoyed the rub of the Green under their wily coach and 1995 Rothmans Medallist as referees' player of the year.

Unlike years past, like when Thurston accused the NRL of a conspiracy after Cronulla's infamous seventh-tackle try helped send the Cowboys packing in 2013, Green's men have had no such complaints with officials.

A series of controversial decisions against Cronulla had Sharks coach Shane Flanagan howling after the Cowboys ended his side's title defence in a golden-point thriller in week one of the finals.

Then Roosters fans were fuming over Kyle Feldt's match winner in the corner last Saturday night.

The Cowboys, though, will need more than the rub of the green to stop the Storm, who are anything but a three-man band.

They will need more Morgan magic and probably at least another 234 metres from Taumalolo, whose average inroads through opposition defences during the finals may never be seen again.

Few teams before have packed the collective punch of Melbourne.

Their hungry forwards revel in sucking the life out of their rivals before allowing Smith and Cronk to unleash Slater and fellow back-three strike weapons Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr, statistically the most potent try-scoring wing pairing in 60 years.

To stop this once-in-a-generation Melbourne side, the Cowboys will need not just Morgan and Taumalolo, but a less than perfect Storm.

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