It’s funny how things work out.
After a titanic 2016 Origin campaign, and an equally torrid Telstra NRL Premiership season, we’re back to this – Cameron Smith leading out the Melbourne Storm, Queensland’s unofficial fourth team, to take on a team in sky blue from New South Wales.
Sure, this this the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final, but a quick look down the respective team lists only adds to the Origin feel.
The Storm are packed with Maroons Origin experience, more than 60 games’-worth, and the Cronulla Sharks have named no less than seven Origin players in their 17 for the decider.
If the NRL decider is to be won on the back of leadership through the spine, Melbourne has the edge, but not by a wide margin. A record 39 Origin appearances from Storm captain Cameron Smith added to halfback Cooper Cronk’s 19 affords Melbourne a wealth of experience playing under the most intense pressure that rugby league has to offer.
On the other side of the field, five-eighth James Maloney has six Origin games and Paul Gallen has closed his account on 24 – certainly no slouches. Maloney may even be the Sharks’ experience X-factor. Sunday will be Maloney’s third decider, each with a different team.
He followed up a loss in 2011 with the Warriors with a Premiership in 2013 with the Sydney Roosters. The journeyman five-eighth won’t be overawed by the occasion, but then anyone who thinks Melbourne will go to water at ANZ Stadium have never seen them play.
It’s only when the ruler is run over the teams’ speed men that Queensland starts to truly dominate. Storm fullback Cameron Munster is Rockhampton born and bred, and has played for the CQ Capras and Easts Tigers in the Intrust Super Cup. On the wings, the Storm have two Fijian fliers – Suliasi Vunivalu fresh from the Intrust Super Cup (Easts Tigers), and Marika Koroibete. The Sharks custodian Ben Barba played all his junior footy in Mackay, winger Valentine Holmes is a Townsville product, and Sosaia Feki hails from New Zealand.
What does all this add up to? It’s hard to tip against another epic interstate clash, with less than a handful of points separating the sides. And Cameron Smith raising yet another trophy.
So c’arn the Burleigh Bears, then c’arn the Storm.